Ryan Krahe

Great Falls' Ryan Krahe was born into the Bison-Rustler rivalry. Now he plays in it.

GREAT FALLS – Ryan Krahe was literally born into the Bison-Rustler football rivalry, which resumes Friday night at Memorial Stadium when Great Falls High plays Great Falls CMR for the 61st time.

A crowd of at least 5,000 is expected for the most anticipated crosstown battle in many years.

Ryan was born in 2003, when his dad, Matt, was an assistant coach for the Great Falls Bison. When Ryan was 7, his father took over the reins of the program, and remained as head coach for six seasons – five of them ending with losses to the Rustlers.

But when Ryan – who has grown into a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior – steps on the field Friday, he and his fellow seniors have an opportunity to end their careers with a three-game winning streak against CMR. And just as important, they have an opportunity to improve their postseason prospects.

“The crosstown game is always big, but this year it’s bigger because of the seeding situation,” said Krahe, a two-way star who leads the Bison on offense in rushing yards and on defense in tackles. “Finishing third (place) would mean a better draw in the playoffs.”

CMR leads the historic series 36-25, but the Bison have won four of the last five under current head coach Mark Samson. That includes a 35-7 romp a year ago, when the game was played in cold, snowy weather. On Friday, the field will be dry and temperatures are expected in the mid-50s.

On paper, the teams appear remarkably similar. Both are 4-2 in Eastern AA play. Both have lost to powerful Billings West (6-0) and likely runner-up Bozeman (5-1). Both have defeated the other two Billings schools, as well as Bozeman Gallatin and Belgrade.

Friday’s winner will draw the No. 3 seeding from Eastern AA for the playoffs, while the loser will be No. 4. Both will be hosts for next week’s playoff openers against the No. 5 and 6 teams from Western AA.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” said Samson, who won three state AA championships at Helena Capital but has struggled to return GFH to its former glory. “This is good for this town .. it should give football a boost.”

Dennis Morris is 0-1 against the Bison in his brief CMR coaching career, but as a former Rustler player, he understands the significance of the rivalry. And after two successive losses against Bozeman (21-14) and West (49-20) derailed his team’s title hopes, Morris thinks CMR is ready for the crosstown challenge.

“Absolutely, we’ve grown from those losses and they will help us get better,” said Morris. “We made some mistakes in those games and they cost us. Great Falls had the same problem early in the year. There’s no superstar on either team and it will come down to execution.”

Samson agreed that mistakes plagued his Bison in early nonconference losses against Helena (22-0) and Butte (17-7), both playoff teams from Western AA.

“We had too many penalties and too many touchdowns called back to beat good teams,” he said.

But over the past four games – all victories – the Bison have minimized their errors and shored up their defense, admittedly against weaker opponents.

“Our defense has rallied to the ball, and has mostly shut down the run,” said Samson, who called last week’s victory at Billings Senior the best road win of his tenure at GFH.

The Rustlers will try to use their spread offense to speed up the game, with junior quarterback Cole Taylor distributing the ball to receivers Raef Newbrough and Tucker Harrison. Jackson Simonson, a 190-pound senior running back, averages almost 100 yards a game on the ground and is a capable receiver, as well.

Great Falls also has a talented junior quarterback in Reed Harris, who has the size (6-5, 200) and agility to make good plays out of bad situations.

“We need Reed to have a great game,” said the Bison coach. “We don’t need 300 yards passing and 100 rushing … we need him to hang onto the ball and scramble when he needs to. He had some huge escapes against Senior.”

Krahe is the main running threat, and he had his best game a week ago with 118 yards and one touchdown.

“Our O-Line really stepped up and made it easy for me,” said Krahe, whose dad is currently the Bison linebacker coach.

Seniors Cale Gundlach, Bridger Polk and Garrett Stone are also critical to the Bison game plan on both sides of the ball. The Bison will start four athletes on both offense and defense, while the versatile Newbrough is the only Rustler to play both ways full-time.

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