Fourth and eight.
Billings Senior quarterback Nate Dick took the snap from Kalispell Glacier’s 16-yard line and rolled to his right. He stopped, planted and threw the ball to a double-covered Gabe Sulser in the end zone.
Sulser lept above the two defenders, caught it, hit the ground, then stood up with the ball above his head with three minutes to play.
Just like that Friday night, the Senior High Broncs were Montana's Class AA football champion again after a 37-year wait.
Sulser’s touchdown all but sealed a 33-21 win for the top-ranked Broncs over the second-ranked Wolfpack on a cold Friday night in front of a near-capacity crowd at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium. It's the school’s first football title since 1979.
Move over Cleveland. Move over Chicago Cubs. It was the Broncs turn to snap a streak.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” a grinning Sulser said. “It doesn’t even feel real yet. I’m so happy just to be a part of this team. We work so dang hard for this and it’s worth it. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Sulser finished with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 10 times for 27 yards and two more scores. Dick was 13 for 22 passing for 187 yards and a touchdown and rushed 24 times for 120 yards and another score.
One year removed from second place, the Broncs finished 13-0.
Sulser missed the majority of last year’s title game with injury.
This year, he starred.
“Before the game, it got a little emotional before we came out. I told the guys, I’ve just got this feeling that, from last year, it hurt, and we didn’t want to feel like that again,” Sulser said. “It was hard to sleep last night. I really wanted this one bad, especially not being able to play in it last year. This is what you train for.”
Dick, who has 51 touchdowns in his senior year, and even played cornerback for the first time in a couple years on the final defensive series, said the moment felt “surreal.”
“I think (the touchdown to Gabe) was kind of the dagger, and it (kind of hit me then). I knew I just had to give him a chance," Dick said while accepting congratulations from friends and family. "That kid’s the best player in the state. I knew he was going to come down with that football.”
Dick immediately found offensive line coach Brandon Quesenberry after his pass to Sulser. Quesenberry picked him up in a huge embrace.
Did they say much?
“Not a whole lot,” he said, laughing. “We have a really good relationship, and we always have our little handshakes. I’m definitely going to miss that. He’s such a great coach for everyone. He changes Senior High.”
Even though the temperature dipped to 28 degrees, coach Chris Murdock was given a water cooler shower at the end of the game. For him, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It’s better. It’s better than you would ever think it would be,” Senior coach Chris Murdock said about the feeling of winning a state title. “You’re so happy for the kids. For them to be rewarded like this, there’s nothing like that. It’s way better than I ever imagined it would be.”
For Senior high brothers Luke and Garrison Poetzl, both offensive and defensive linemen, they get to enjoy being state champions with family.
“It’s kind of unexplainable to be honest,” Luke, a senior, said. “Ever since Little Guy (Football) to high school, we’ve grinded it out and it’s surreal.”
“My brother has always been the one I look up to, especially when it comes to sports,” Garrison, a sophomore, said. “You get to practice against each other and make each other better and it’s exciting.”
The Wolfpack finished 11-2. Senior quarterback Tadan Gilman was 11 for 24 passing for 165 yards and two touchdowns to Scout Willcut. Gilman also ran for a score.
“I’m so proud of this group of kids. At the beginning of the year, we weren’t sure. I’m always optimistic, but I’m a realist, too, and I didn’t know, maybe 4-6, 5-5, 6-4. I just wasn’t sure,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. “It’s amazing what these kids pulled off. And to be in three of four state championships, what this group has accomplished is amazing. That’s the hardest part for me right now. I have to go in that locker room and say goodbye.”