MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel senior Elias Dewaters has been returning punts since his sophomore year, but he'd never been able to break one off for a touchdown.
That was until Friday, when he took a punt 80 yards to the house as part of a performance in which his explosive plays helped lift the Spartans to a 28-14 win over Missoula Hellgate.
“It felt great to score on it finally,” Dewaters said. “I tried to go to the left and I saw some guys out there, so I cut it back to the right. There was a kid ripping our guy’s face mask and I just went around, and it was open down the right side.”
Dewaters finished his day with 229 total yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 142 yards on 22 carries.
As Hellgate went on time-consuming drives, the Spartans were in need of game-changing plays, and Dewaters delivered. He had two plays of 70-plus yards, the first one setting up a first-quarter touchdown.
“Those long drives hurt our flow offensively because we were on the sideline a lot,” Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver said. “It just took away our energy and tempo and it became a sloppy game.”
He added: “We wanted (Dewaters) to be an explosive player on offense, so we just played him on third down on defense.”
Sentinel improved to 4-3 with the win, while Hellgate fell to 2-5 and had its two-game win streak snapped.
The Knights made it inside the Spartans' 25-yard line five times but were intercepted twice and turned the ball over on downs once. They converted just six of 16 third downs and three of six fourth downs.
Hellgate quarterback Rollie Worster finished 11 of 35 for 137 yards and one touchdown, but he was sacked five times. The Knights had three incompletions on deep passes that could have been touchdowns — two that went through a receiver’s hands and one that was a slight overthrow.
“We just didn’t make the plays, and they did,” Hellgate head coach Mick Morris said. “We never gave up, battled to the very end. We had a case of the drops, some missed assignments on blocking. They capitalized on them. It’s pretty simple.”
DeWaters rushed for 31 yards on the game’s opening drive and capped it with a 10-yard score.
The Knights came out with a rushing attack and got down to the Sentinel 22-yard line before Worster was stopped on a fourth-and-7, rolling out to the right and gaining just 1 yard.
On the first play after that, Dewaters rushed 74 yards to the 7-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Rylan Ortt connected with Jack Colyer in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score.
The Knights again marched into Hellgate territory, but Torin Jackson and Brock Field combined to sack Worster on fourth-and-9 from the Spartans’ 45-yard line.
The Spartans added their third score 12 plays later as Ortt scored on a 4-yard run.
The Knights began to throw the ball late in the first half, and Worster was picked off by Preston Jones on a first-and-10 from the Spartan’s 24-yard line.
Opening the second half, Hellgate failed to field the kickoff, Sentinel recovered but missed a 39-yard field goal. After a Hellgate punt, Ortt was picked off by Brennan Dumont. Hellgate went three and out, and DeWaters returned the punt 80 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-0.
On the following drive, the Knights scored on a 2-yard run by Jakub Paisley-Bunch. They converted two fourth downs and were aided by 30 yards of Sentinel penalties.
Hellgate got inside the Sentinel 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter before Blaise Meriwether picked off Worster. Dewaters fumbled, Hellgate recovered, and Paisley-Bunch caught a one-handed pass over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 28-14 with 1:21 left.
“First half, we were great,” Oliver said. “Second half, we have to be better at ball security. We looked off, especially in the second half with catching, snapping and handing it off. You have one game a year where you’re able to overcome that and win ugly. We’re not where we want to be.”