COLUMBIA FALLS — It wasn’t the ending they wanted, but the Columbia Falls Wildcats still hung their heads high after a 41-27 loss to Hamilton in the Class A football semifinal on Saturday at Satterthwaite Field.
“They know inside that they played about as hard as they could,” Columbia Falls coach Jaxon Schweikert said.
“And that’s what we’ve always said — if we play as hard as we can and we get beat, we will stand tall and be OK.”
The Wildcats (8-2) struggled to contain junior quarterback Carson Rostad, who passed for four touchdowns and ran for two more to help keep the Broncs undefeated and earn them a spot in the Class A championship game.
“They seemed a half-step faster than us today ... it’s a real fine line between winning and losing,” Schweikert said.
“We kind of blew a few coverages, we blew a couple of opportunities.”
Hamilton’s opening possession was kept alive by a critical pass interference call on fourth down. The Broncs took advantage, capping off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rostad to Michael Golden.
But Columbia Falls answered right back. On the Wildcats’ second play from scrimmage, senior Colten McPhee found a hole, broke free and scampered down the right sideline for a 69-yard touchdown run.
McPhee had three touchdowns and 188 yards on the ground, adding to his school record and finishing the season with 1,995 total rushing yards.
“He played his heart out. He played great at linebacker and he ran the ball hard,” Schweikert said.
But early in the second quarter with the game still tied, the Broncs recovered a McPhee fumble at the Wildcats’ 28-yard line. Four plays later, Rostad had a 1-yard touchdown run.
Columbia Falls drove into Hamilton territory on its next possession, but quarterback Drew Morgan was picked off on a fourth-down pass. Then the Broncs padded their lead when Camron Rothie hauled in a short pass and took it to the house from 76 yards out.
“You can’t make any mistakes, that’s for sure, because they’re talented enough to score on any play from anywhere,” Schweikert said.
Hamilton took its 21-7 lead into halftime.
Early in the second half, Columbia Falls briefly recaptured the momentum. The Wildcats stuffed Rostad on a fourth-and-2 in Broncs territory, and a few plays later McPhee burst through the middle and ran nearly untouched for a 33-yard touchdown.
But Hamilton quieted the home crowd by marching down the field for a 12-play, 78-yard drive culminating in an easy 10-yard Rostad rushing touchdown.
After that drive, the game slipped away from the home team. Morgan threw an interception in Columbia Falls territory, leading to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Rostad to Rothie. Then Morgan threw four straight incompletions at the Wildcats’ 45 to turn the ball over on downs.
Hamilton took advantage, driving to the 1-yard line before Rostad found Golden uncovered in the end zone for the touchdown reception.
Down 41-14, the Wildcats’ fourth-quarter rally came up well short. Morgan scored on a quarterback keeper from one yard out, and McPhee grinded out a 7-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left for his last carry as a Wildcat.
As the Wildcats’ season ended, so did the high-school careers of Columbia Falls seniors that were part of two Class A title games, three state semifinal appearances and the school’s first ever state football championship.
“They broke records, they broke scoring records, they broke rushing records ... And the thing is, they never took any of it for granted,” Schweikert said.
“They knew how hard it was to win just one game, any game. And they always bought into that, that it’s really hard, no matter who you’re playing, to win one game.
“We win in January and February and we win on Mondays and Tuesdays, and they were willing to work really, really hard. They were willing to fight for things,” he added.
Hamilton (11-0) will host Billings Central (12-0) in next week’s Class A title game. Central defeated Laurel 28-7 in the other semifinal on Friday night.
Hamilton 7 14 13 7 – 41
Columbia Falls 7 0 7 13 – 27
H – Michael Golden 10 pass from Carson Rostad (Clay Keller PAT good)
C – Colten McPhee 69 run (Auguste Emond PAT good)
H – Rostad 2 run (PAT good)
H – Camron Rothie 76 pass from Rostad (PAT good)
C – McPhee 33 run (PAT good)
H – Rostad 10 run (PAT good)
H – Rothie 14 pass from Rostad (PAT no good)
H – Golden 2 pass from Rostad (PAT good)
C – Drew Morgan 1 run (PAT no good)
C – McPhee 6 run (PAT good)
PASSING – Hamilton, Carson Rostad 16-30-1-4-210; Columbia Falls, Drew Morgan 21-36-3-0-166.
RUSHING – Columbia Falls, Colten McPhee 20-188.
RECEIVING – Columbia Falls, Parker Greene 6-30, Logan Bechtel 5-31.