Football

BILLINGS — Jim Benn is no stranger to being a head football coach. 

Still, the butterflies were there on Friday when Malta opened its season at home against Roundup. The Mustangs won 41-14, kicking off Benn's first season as the head coach in Malta on the right note.

"It was great," Benn said. "The kids executed things very well. They're excited about the changes we've made. There's a great tradition here and it's been a lot of fun.

"Until you get that game in you're not sure kind of where you stand. We're heading into another game like that this week where we're playing a very good team that has the potential to be right in there with the contenders. We'll find out a little bit more about ourselves this week, too."

Benn was announced as the new football coach at Malta, which is ranked No. 9 in this week's 406mtsports.com football rankings, back in March. He replaces Nick Oxarart who was the head coach for three seasons. Benn was previously the head coach at Ronan for eight seasons before stepping down and taking the 2016 season off.

Benn said coaching in a place like Malta, a program that is normally a formidable one in Class B, is exciting because of the expectations that come with it.

"The expectations are high and there's enthusiasm around town about the things that are happening," Benn said. "This place is crazy about football and they love it, they bleed blue, and it makes it very fun to coach."

Benn started his football coaching career as an assistant coach at Manhattan in the mid-90's. From there he went to Corvallis and Huntley Project before spending the last nine years in Ronan. This is his ninth year as a head coach in the football ranks, with plenty of experience as a head track coach under his belt at his previous three schools. 

Benn added that this year's Malta team reminds him of his 2011 Ronan team that went to the Class B semifinals, where ironically, they were defeated by Malta. 

"Just great kids and they'll do everything you ask of them," Benn said. "The expectations are already in place. The kids expect to win."

Malta travels to Shelby (0-2) on Friday. The Coyotes will be a tough test for Malta, and have had two close games with two of the top Class B teams in Bigfork (2-0) and Missoula Loyola (1-1).

Glendive off to 2-0 start

There is a buzz about Glendive football right now that has not been around in 37 years.

Why? Well for the first time since 1980, the fifth-ranked Red Devils have opened their season with back-to-back shutout victories, beating Livingston (20-0) and Hardin (28-0). 

One does not want to get too ahead of themselves with a start like that. But for head coach Ryan Buckley and his team, which finished 1-7 a year ago, it is tough not to be excited about what the team has accomplished so far.

"It feels good," Buckley said. "I'm happy for our kids. They're excited. They've worked hard and put some time in the last couple of years and took their lumps last year for sure. 

"As a program, we had some higher expectations last year. Only having the one win, we were pretty disappointed with where we ended the season so they put a lot of time in for this upcoming season and so far it has paid off."

Buckley, who is in his sixth year as Glendive's football coach, said his team this year has done a good job of locking down late in games and preventing any collapses. 

"In these two games we've had our ups and downs and lulls," Buckley said. "It seems like instead of snowballing into negative things, we're able to get ourselves right and get going again and get on the positive side of things."

Buckley added that he hopes his team realizes that hard work is beginning to pay off, while also staying grounded.

"We're trying to remind them we're only two games in of a nine-game season so we have to make sure we keep rolling and we keep trying to come to practice and getting better every day," Buckley said. "I told them on Friday, this can't be our highlight of our season, the second win. We want to keep going. There's bigger things that we want to accomplish."

One of those goals includes making the Class A playoffs, a feat Glendive has not done since 1996.

Glendive's lone win last year came against Livingston on Sept. 9. Almost a year to the day later, having topped their win totals already, the Red Devils will get another solid test when Billings Central (1-1) comes into town on Friday. Buckley said Glendive has not defeated Central in 13 years.

"It's kind of a measuring stick for us because they've been one of the top dogs for so long and it'd be kind of fun to see where we're at, and that's what we're looking forward to on Friday," Buckley said.

Westby-Grenora and Richey-Lambert square off

Thunder meets Fusion.

That is what is in store on Friday night in what is arguably the game of the week across the state as top-ranked Class C 6-Man team Westby-Grenora (2-0) will hit the road to take on No. 2 Richey-Lambert (2-0) at 7 p.m.

The Thunder, last year's runner ups, are coming off of a thrilling 48-47 overtime victory over Bridger last Friday. Likewise, the Fusion scrapped out a 52-50 win over Jordan that same evening. 

Both teams are battling in what is a tough 6-Man Eastern Division, and this early season match up will give each team plenty to showcase and talk about as the season progresses.

"Right now, I've got a lion in the cage that just can't wait to come out and play Friday night," Thunder football coach Troy Walters said. 

Walters said his team hurt for a bit after losing to Hot Springs in the 6-Man championship game a year ago. But once his team started summer workouts, they were focused up and ready to get playing again. 

"We haven't lost very much here in MonDak over the last five years and losing doesn't come very well and our seniors especially have seen that," Walters said. "That bad taste of losing sure is easy to motivate kids, especially in the summertime."

Having passed one test with Bridger, Westby-Grenora now looks to Richey-Lambert. It is an exciting match up, but Walters said the team is preparing for it the same they would for any other team.

"Win or lose, we want to see where we're at," Walters said. "Best thing that happened to us last year was in the first game of the year, we lost to Bridger. So we knew what to look for and what to work on, and come practice that's what we did. 

"As the year goes on, I keep preaching to the kids every day, we climb the hill. Let's take another step. That's what we keep preaching and the kids have believed in the system and that's a big thing."

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Email Kyle Hansen at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsHansen

Prep sports reporter at the Billings Gazette

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