BILLINGS — A strong defensive performance highlighted a season-opening 17-7 win for the Billings Central football team over Eastern A foe Lewistown on Friday night at Herb Klindt Field.

Central, the No. 2-ranked Class A team in the rankings, opened the scoring on a two-yard run from junior Michael Hayden with 4:53 left in the first quarter. That 7-0 lead grew to 17-0 with 9:22 to go in the half, when junior Marcus Wittman connected with senior Charlie Parkan on a 40-yard touchdown pass.

Lewistown’s first substantial drive of the game looked like it would end fruitless, when Clayton Elmore fumbled the shotgun snap on fourth-and-12. But the senior quarterback recovered it, stayed on his feet, avoided tacklers and fired up a prayer to Gage Clinton in the back left corner of the end zone. The 6-foot-5 senior came down with Elmore’s pass for a 23-yard touchdown with 4:06 left in the first half.

The scoring ended there.

Central’s run game was solid all night, but the offense never drove deep into Lewistown territory during the second half. Rams coach Jim Stanton said they “ran out of gas.”

Central was dominant on the other side of the ball — Lewistown’s touchdown drive was the only one to reach the red zone.

“Defensively, we were spot on. We’re way ahead of the game there," Stanton said. “Defense is something we can hang our hat on until we can get things settled down a little bit and find our identity on offense.”

Friday’s game was Central’s first since a 28-21 win over Hamilton in the Class A state title game. Many players, such as senior lineman Bo Hakert, are stepping into major roles as the championship defense commences.

“This is my first time starting a varsity game,” Hakert said, “so this is really something special.”

Jessen makes Lewistown debut

Last week, the Montana High School Association approved a short-term cooperation between Lewistown and Grass Range after Grass Range-Winnett canceled its 6-Man football season. Grass Range senior Jacob Jessen was the only player from Grass Range or Winnett to join Lewistown, and he found the field for the first time as a Golden Eagle on Friday.

Jessen is still learning the playbook, he said after the game, and he only played a handful of snaps against Central. He tallied a couple carries at running back, lined up at slot receiver and appeared at linebacker for Lewistown (1-1).

“I was glad I was able to put a uniform on, regardless of what team,” Jessen said. “This is my sport. I love playing it, and I’m willing to learn 11-Man, or any-man.”

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