Big Sky vs. Hellgate football

Big Sky's Louis Sanders (6) stiff-arms Hellgate's Brayden Terzo during their game last year at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The teams will tangle Friday at Missoula County Stadium.

MISSOULA — Crosstown football games always have a certain level of excitement and intrigue and often the records the teams bring into the contest don't matter too much.

When both are in position to turn their season around, it makes the tilt even more important.

Missoula Big Sky (1-4) is on the outside looking in at seventh in the Western AA standings while crosstown rival Hellgate (2-2) is in fifth. Both teams are hoping to keep postseason hopes alive in Friday's game at Missoula County Stadium.

The Knights routed Kalispell Flathead last week behind one of the most prolific quarterback performances in Class AA this season. Knights QB Connor Dick, a junior in his first season as the varsity starter, threw for six touchdowns, 430 yards and ran for two scores and 84 more yards in just three quarters of play.

"He had a really good game and, beyond the stats just going through the film, in the moment it seemed he just made some really difficult throws look easy," Hellgate coach Mick Morris said. " ... Whether it was in the run game or throwing the ball it was certainly his best game."

Last Friday, Big Sky was blanked by No. 3 Butte. But after the loss, coach Matt Johnson was positive and pretty happy with how his defense played against a potential title contender. That is really where Big Sky has hung its hat. Hellgate has had more scoring — albeit against a lesser schedule — while Big Sky's defense has been solid aside from one rough showing against Helena Capital.

"I think it will carry forward," Big Sky  coach Matt Johnson said of his defense Thursday. "I thought at times we played well against Glacier; Capital was the one anomaly game for us. We just really didn't show up and our team responded really well against Butte." 

A win for either would be key. There are little to zero breaks in the Western AA and both Hellgate and Big Sky have tough schedules in October.

Hellgate, which had to cancel its crosstown game against the top-ranked Missoula Sentinel Spartans in September, has Helena Capital (3-2) on the road, No. 3 Butte (4-1) at home and No. 4 Kalispell Glacier at home. Big Sky will face the Spartans next week, then Helena High (3-2) in Helena and Flathead at home.

Hellgate had the easier schedule comparatively to open, while Big Sky gets a slightly easier last few games to end the regular season.

Schedules aside, Friday's scenario is simple: Both teams need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

"Whoever wins this game really puts themselves in the driver's seat," Morris said. 

"This is the game of the week that we need to take care of," Johnson said.

Around town

The No. 1 Spartans (4-0) are headed north to take on Kalispell Flathead (0-5) for a Western AA clash. Sentinel is fresh off a strong road win over Helena High, while Flathead fell to Hellgate last week.

Elsewhere, starting in Class B, Loyola Sacred Heart (3-2), which fell out of the top-10 of the B rankings after losing to No. 6 Eureka (4-1) last week, gets another chance at a top-flight team when No. 5 Bigfork (4-0) comes to town. In the 6-Man ranks, fresh off an upset win over previous third-ranked, now down to eighth, Hot Springs, Valley Christian (3-2) will try to prove the team is for real against No. 2 White Sulphur Springs (3-0) Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Missoula County Stadium.

Around the area

In what is the best Class B game of the week, Eureka will head to No. 1 Florence (4-0) to try to knock off the undefeated powerhouse. The Class A meanwhile has a relatively tame slate of games, but No. 5 Polson (5-0) could face a test against upstart Columbia Falls (3-0), which is eyeing a signature win on the road after outscoring all others 125-12.

The top game in the AA isn't exactly around the area — depending where you draw the imaginary area line — but the No. 4 Kalispell Glacier Wolfpack (4-1) will, like many others, try to show they are for real against Helena High in Helena. The Wolfpack beat Helena Capital last week, while Helena has lost two straight to top-five teams Butte and Sentinel.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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