COLUMBIA FALLS — The Hamilton Broncs downplayed their win over defending state champion Columbia Falls, but the smiles on their faces weren’t effective in hiding the meaningfulness of the victory.
In a rematch of last year’s Class A title game, the Broncs erased a 10-point halftime deficit and shut out the Wildcats in the second half as they pulled out a 35-24 win Friday.
“I think it gives our guys a morale boost,” Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. “They’ve beaten us three times in a row. It felt good to get that monkey off our back. We knew we could beat them. We just had to get over the hump of winning that game.”
Hamilton wide receiver Camron Rothie hauled in seven passes for 110 yards and four touchdowns. His 31-yard touchdown reception to create the final margin and his interception to seal the win came after he suffered cramps in both his calves when he dropped a pass in the end zone while diving.
Rothie caught all of the touchdowns thrown by quarterback Carson Rostad, who finished 18-of-28 for 253 yards. Rostad added 34 rushing yards on six carries.
Broncs senior Mikey Golden, a first-year starter at running back, racked up 84 of his 97 rushing yards in the final two quarters. His touchdown on a 10-yard run up the middle with 8:14 left proved to be the winning score.
“Today just proved to me he’s always been ready and he can do what we need to win games,” Carver said.
When Hamilton and Columbia Falls played to end last season, the Wildcats pulled out a 26-14 with a strong defense. The teams graduated a combined 10 all-state players, but six all-state and nine all-conference honorees were back.
One of those returners is Wildcats running back Colten McPhee, the Northwest A co-offensive player of the year. The Broncs limited him to 27 total yards of offense in the second half after he had 12 rushes for 77 yards and three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Hamilton’s defense was able to slow down McPhee and the Columbia Falls offense by being more sound in their reads and their tackles. McPhee scored the game's first touchdown on a 53-yard pass, which was the result of a blown coverage, and his 38-yard score to close the first half came as he bounced off would-be tacklers.
Columbia Falls quarterback Drew Morgan, in his first start, was limited to 7-of-11 passing for 45 yards in the second half. It was a stark difference from his 9-of-11 performance for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the opening two quarters.
Morgan's 4-yard touchdown strike to Lana Sapa came one player after a 56-yard run that contributed to his 88 yards on 10 carries in the first half. However, he was limited to 5 yards on two carries in the second half and was sacked by Tucker Jones twice in the fourth quarter.
“We knew if our defense stepped up, our offense is there,” Rothie said. “We never quit fighting and stopped the run and made them throw it.”
The teams traded a pair of touchdowns twice in the first half before Columbia Falls scored 10 consecutive points to take a 24-14 lead into the break. The Broncs had a chance to take their first lead when they got down to the 2-yard line late in the third quarter. However, a drop by Rothie, a penalty and back-to-back incomplete passes resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Wildcats began to move the ball from the 2-yard line and reached the 43 before 25 yards worth of penalties forced them to punt for the second straight possession to begin the second half. They had a turnover on downs — Rothie broke up the pass — and interception on their two other second-half possessions.
Penalties were a common theme late in the game for Columbia Falls, which didn’t make it into Hamilton territory in the second half until their second-to-last play of the game.
“Anything they changed in the second half didn’t affect us,” Columbia Falls head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “It was on us. We hurt ourselves with bad mistakes. We weren’t disciplined that second half. We can’t do that. It’s our first game. It’s a long season. I don’t expect us to look like that going forward.”