BILLINGS – The undefeated Bozeman Hawks have been a tough out through the first six weeks of the high school football season.
Last Friday against Kalispell Flathead, however, the Hawks were dealt a tough blow to one of their best players.
Star running back Joe Olson broke his arm on the first play from scrimmage against Flathead. Bozeman coach Levi Wesche said Olson gained about three yards before tripping and falling.
“He went to put his hand down to bounce back up like he’s done 100 times and he broke both bones in his left forearm,” Wesche said. “So it wasn’t even like a contact injury where he was getting hit. He just put his hand down and happened to break it. But I’ve seen him do that about 100 times no problem, but something about that time just wasn’t right.”
Wesche said the team hopes Olson can make it back this season, but it will mean the Hawks will have to make a deep run in the postseason. Wesche said the timeline looked like the injury would take anywhere from four to six weeks, which would coincide with Week 10 of the regular season and the Class AA semifinals. According to Wesche, Olson had surgery in Billings on Tuesday.
“There is a good chance that if we play well enough that he could see the field again,” Wesche said.
Junior running back McCade O’Reilly stepped into the fold and blew up for an outstanding game. He carried the ball 31 times for 221 yards and five touchdowns as Bozeman went on to win, 49-34. O’Reilly has been a solid fill-in for Olson in relief and will now be the team’s workhorse while he recovers.
Going into the game against Flathead, Olson, an MSU football commit, ranked among the state’s best. He was second in rushing yards behind Flathead’s Blake Counts with 971 yards through five games with three 200-plus-yard rushing games. He was tied with Counts for second in the AA with nine rushing touchdowns, one behind Billings West’s DeMarcus Carr.
Wesche has seen this before. Back in 2013 when the Hawks won the AA title, running back Hunter Gappmayer was lost for the season with a broken collarbone after leading the state in rushing. He knows the team must move forward, and success could bring their star back just in the time for the biggest games of the year.
“We mostly just told him, ‘Hey, man, be here, be a leader, continue your role on the team and we’re going to continue to fight for you and make sure this isn’t how your senior year ends,’” Wesche said.
D-G-S thrives in return to 6-Man
Matt Neumann saw change coming, it was only a matter of when.
After two years in the 8-Man ranks, Denton-Geyser-Stanford dropped down to 6-Man this year due to numbers. A year ago, the Bearcats sported only a roster of 13 with seven seniors, so the writing was on the wall that change was coming.
But the co-op is plenty familiar with the 6-Man ranks, having won it all in 2015. They started rough with a 38-0 loss to Grass Range-Winnett, but since have won five games in a row. The Bearcats are ranked No. 9 in the 406mtsports.com rankings.
“That first weekend we weren’t really ready,” said Neumann, who is in his third year. “We learned a lot and since then it’s getting smoother every week from coaching staff to the players.”
D-G-S has 10 players on the roster, including four seniors, three of whom were freshmen when the co-op won the 6-Man title.
Led by senior captains Kyle Lee and Jake Solomon, along with fellow seniors Tyrell Dahl and Layton Senef and underclassmen Dylan Taylor, Arik Ayers and Zack Solomon, D-G-S found its feet and has since been on a roll. Most recently, the Bearcats won a convincing game over one of the 6-Man West’s top teams in White Sulphur Springs, winning 37-12.
Neumann believes the true turning point for D-G-S was in Week 4 when they defeated Power-Dutton-Brady, 30-12.
“They were pretty solid and I don’t think many people thought we were going to win that and I know not many people thought we were going to beat White Sulphur Springs,” Neumann said. “Nobody really thought we’d be much to start the year and now we can’t escape that after beating White Sulphur.
“We cherished the underdog role for a while, but we’re going into the meat of our conference schedule right now. That was a big win against White Sulphur and gave our kids a lot of confidence.”
D-G-S will host Big Sandy this weekend, take on No. 2 Geraldine-Highwood next week on the road, and end the year with a home game against Sunburst. All three teams have recent playoff history in the 6-Man ranks, and Neumann knows his squad will be tested.
And with the questions about their transition back to 6-Man now answered, the Bearcats are a team to be taken seriously down the final stretch.
“I knew we had it in us,” Neumann said. “I think right now our biggest motivator is if we get one of the top two seeds we’re sitting at home the first weekend. If we don’t we’re going out west. I think the boys know that us winning at least two of these next three games means we’re staying at home for a first-round game, and I think that in itself keeps them focused.”
Forfeits keep haunting 6-Man
The consensus around Montana is this has been one of the state’s worst years in terms of forfeits, especially in 6-Man.
Specifically, the 6-Man South has been hit hard by the injury bug. Of the seven known teams to have forfeited a game this year, four reside in the 6-Man South. Custer-Hysham forfeited its season to begin the year and Fromberg, Plenty Coups and Northern Cheyenne have all forfeited games throughout the year. North Star, Lima and Lincoln have all also forfeited, with MHSA associate director Brian Michelotti telling 406mtsports.com that Lincoln is forfeiting the rest of its season.
This weekend, North Star forfeited to Valier, while Northern Cheyenne forfeited to Bridger. Bridger will now travel to Valier for a non-conference game on Friday.
Bridger has been the beneficiary of three forfeits this year, but head coach Mike Mathis said it’s been sad and frustrating to see the 6-Man level struggle with the forfeiting issue.
“If we can at least get a game going, you can get some younger guys in and it's an opportunity for them to get some time,” Mathis said. “With these low numbers, when they can’t even get six bodies out there, they have to play the whole game both ways, it’s a little daunting.
“It’s been a little frustrating. The kids have been taking it well for the most part. When it comes Friday or Saturday, they’re itching to play a game, so it’s been a little more frustrating that way. But we’ve also been able to stay a little healthier that way. You know you’re going to be healthy and you have extra time to prepare for your next opponent. Mostly, you want to play the game.”
Meanwhile, teams like Augusta and Terry aren’t fielding teams but rather co-oping with others. Augusta has joined Fairfield, while Terry is in a co-op with Glendive.
With just three weeks left in the season, more forfeits could be on the way, too, as teams with no shot of the postseason might pack it up to avoid injury or things of that nature.