Kaden Huot

Kaden Huot hands the ball off to Helena High running back Marcus Evans on Friday night in a 42-28 win for the Bengals. 

Both the Helena High Bengals and Capital Bruins will be hoping the third time is the charm Friday night.

That's because each team will be facing an opponent in the Class AA quarterfinals for the third consecutive year and following consecutive losses by the Bengals to the Bozeman Hawks and Capital to the Billings West Golden Bears, both the Bruins and Bengals are hoping to reverse their fortunes.

But each team will have to do it on the road. Helena travels to Bozeman; Capital to Billings and both games will start at 7 p.m.

"I'm excited to play Bozeman, I truly am," Helena High head coach Scott Evans. "They are always a quality football team. Coach (Levi) Wesche and those guys do a great job so it's a always a great game."

Bozeman (5-4) lost to Capital and Sentinel in nonconference play before winning five of seven games in the Eastern AA with losses to Billings West and Senior. 

The 5-2 mark was enough to earn the No. 2 seed in the East and a first-round bye, as well as a spot in the quarterfinals.

Two years ago, Helena traveled to Bozeman and lost to the Hawks 17-7. A year ago, Bozeman won 35-28 as the No. 3 seed in Vigilante Stadium, thanks to the defense intercepting Bengals quarterback Kaden Huot twice. 

Huot also threw a pick-six in the 2019 game, but Evans feels good about his quarterback and not just because he's accounted for 33 total touchdowns this season and 2,743 total yards (2,071 passing, 672 rushing). 

"He's healthier than he's ever been going into the playoffs," Evans said. "He understands the game and I know I have the best quarterback in the state."

The Bengals (8-2) also got their running game going last week with nearly 300 on the ground but when Huot throws the ball, he's got plenty of weapons but none better than Chase McGurran, who was recently offered a scholarship to play for the Montana Grizzlies.

McGurran has 50 receptions for 712 yards and nine touchdowns. But one of the few receivers who has been more productive in AA is Bozeman's Bryson Zanto who finished the regular season with 55 catches for 823 yards and six touchdowns.

Zanto plays with one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the state in Jake Casagranda who is tied for the lead in Class AA in completion percentage (65.4) and has thrown 18 touchdowns compared to four interceptions.

Jase Applebee also added another element to the Bozeman offense with 103 yards per game (933 total). Huot is ranked ninth in Class AA in rushing yards and Cade Holland is another threat who is fresh off 143 yards and two touchdowns in the first round playoff win over Gallatin.

Defensively, the Hawks allow 21 points per game; Helena allows just 14 per game and is led by stalwarts such as McGurran, Marcus Evans, a Grizzly football commit, and Forrest Suero who has been a force this season with 62 tackles, 10 sacks (3rd in the state), 27 hurries, two interceptions (one returned for a TD), two forced fumbles and 15 TFL.

Capital (6-4), which opened the playoffs on the No. 5 seed steamrolled CMR last week and got back to its ground and pound identity with 200 yards rushing.

"We're going to have to stay ahead of the chains and stay in manageable downs," Capital head coach Kyle Mihelish said. "When that happens, we have a lot of success."

The Bruins have a few different running backs to turn to such as Dylan Graham, Luke Sullivan and also Tuff Adams. Quarterback Joey Michelotti along with wideouts Tom Carter and Eric Cockhill lead the Capital passing attack. 

But in Capital's four losses, it has scored just 14 points, so however it happens, the Bruins will have to find a way to reach the end zone against an explosive Billings West team that features Caden and Taco Dowler. As receivers, the West tandem has combined for 1,394 yards and 15 touchdowns and containing them will be paramount for CHS.

Yet with it being the third consecutive year that Capital has played at Billings West for the quarterfinal round, as well as the second game this year against the Golden Bears, the Bruins know the road ahead. 

"There is a lot of familiarity there," Mihelish said. "It seems like we play them every year and they are very talented. You could go on and on (listing their players). We just have to try and prevent the big chunk plays. We can't be giving up 60 or 70 yard plays."

Kickoff for both matchups will be at 7 p.m. The other quarterfinal games are Great Falls High at Missoula Sentinel and Glacier at Butte. 

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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