MISSOULA — From stalemate to shootout, Friday afternoon's marquee football game evolved quickly at Missoula County Stadium.
On one side was Class AA second-ranked Billings West, a team looking to find some offensive rhythm after sputtering for six straight quarters. On the other was Missoula Sentinel, a playoff contender trying to find answers after a scoreless first half.
Both teams put it all together offensively in the second half. But the Golden Bears had the difference-maker in Jesse Owens, a senior wide receiver who has been offered a football scholarship by the Montana Grizzlies.
The senior scored on three long pass plays — two in the third quarter and one in the fourth — in helping West to a 34-28 victory in front of a large crowd. The win was the sixth in a row for the Golden Bears (7-1).
"I think we put the crowd to sleep that first half, and after that long bus ride, I think we were a little sleepy as well," West coach Rob Stanton said. "We knew they had a very explosive team and we thought we did as well.
"Jesse (Owens) made some fantastic plays for us. When he gets the ball in his hands he does some special things with it. He didn't play extremely well last week. He'd be the first to tell you. He showed us tonight he's one of the best."
West scored the first points of the game late in the first half on an 18-yard option run by quarterback Josh Erbacher. Sentinel (4-4) had several opportunities with possession in Bears territory, but the offense sputtered against West's imposing defense.
"The defense gets a turnover, the offense has to at least get points," Spartans coach Dane Oliver lamented. "The first half we didn't do that a couple times. Then they had the big plays.
"Our kids battled back and I'm proud of the effort. Right now we just want to get in the playoffs."
The first of Owens' three second-half touchdown receptions covered 61 yards. Sentinel answered with a 75-yard march, capped by Rylan Ortt's 6-yard shovel pass to Brock Field for a touchdown.
On the very next play from scrimmage, West replied with an 80-yard touchdown scamper by Demarcus Carr.
"We got after them a little bit at halftime, but we always have to realize we're dealing with teenage boys," Stanton said. "You never know what you're going to get on any given day, any given game. The days of grabbing facemasks and getting in kids' faces are done because it really doesn't work."
Sentinel cut its deficit to 21-14 on an Ortt 28-yard touchdown run with 4:37 left in the third period. Then Owens brought the Spartans to their knees with touchdown catches from 67 yards late in the third quarter and 79 yards early in the fourth quarter on sharp passes from Erbacher.
Owens seemed to dawdle as he approached the end zone on his third touchdown. Afterwards, he explained why.
"I was actually cramping on the last two, so I was just hoping to get to the end zone and hurry up and get to the sideline," he said with a smile. "I couldn't even run. But it was good."
Owens admitted he's having a hard time deciding between playing football and basketball in college.
"Definitely after a game like this it makes it hard to go to basketball," he offered, "but both of them are my true loves so it will be a tough decision."
Owens finished with 10 catches for 248 yards. Erbacher completed 16 of 21 passes for 284 yards. Carr had 26 rushes for 144 yards.
Ortt completed 26 of 39 passes for 255 yards. Teammate Elias DeWaters had 17 rushes for 69 yards and two catches for 83 yards.
Sentinel play host to another ranked team next Friday in the Helena Bengals.