MISSOULA — Party like it's 1995.
For the first time in 24 years, the Missoula Hellgate Knights Class AA football team is off to a 2-0 start after it defeated crosstown rival Missoula Big Sky 35-21 on Friday night at Missoula County Stadium.
Senior quarterback Rollie Worster passed for a touchdown, ran for two more scores, and took an interception to the house to lead the Knights in scoring.
“I’m proud of our guys. We were in a similar position last year (against Big Sky) and weren’t able to close it down,” Hellgate coach Mick Morris said. “Fortunately we were able to make some big stops.”
Hellgate opened the game with a drive that took 15 plays and knocked 6 minutes, 34 seconds off of the clock before Worster hit sophomore receiver Ian Finch for a 28-yard score. But from there, the scoring halted for much of the first half.
Rollie Worster rolls out to his right and hits the Matt Herzog for the 28-yard touchdown. Worster then finds Thomas Riley for the 2-point conversion. @HellgateHigh leads 8-0 after the opening drive which took 6:34 off the clock. #mtscores pic.twitter.com/ZvdlUzDw68— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) September 14, 2019
“Really up front we did a good job and we were able to control that line of scrimmage,” Morris said of the opening drive. “That was huge. And when we had to throw, Rollie did a good job of extending it, and our receivers really caught the ball well tonight.”
Hellgate finally scored again, this time a 10-yard keeper by Worster, to make it 15-0 with 1:36 to play.
On the following drive, senior Thomas Riley sacked Big Sky senior quarterback Draven Lincoln who fumbled the ball which was scooped up by Hellgate senior Brandon Coladonato who took the ball 80 yards back for the touchdown. It appeared Lincoln might have been down on the play but the referees ruled it a fumble and the score went into halftime, 21-0.
“I just saw the ball rolling straight to me and I didn’t hear anything,” Coladonato explained. “So I was like, that’s mine and I’m taking it, and I took it to the house.”
Worster made another huge play in the third quarter. After Big Sky junior lineman Donovan Zavala picked off Hellgate on a trick play, Worster came back on defense and intercepted Lincoln and went 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-0 Hellgate.
Senior Jett Rebish put Big Sky on the board not long after that with a 3-yard score. But Hellgate would follow that up with an 11-play drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown from Worster to make it 35-7 with 7:20 to play, a lead that proved too much to overcome.
Lincoln got into a good rhythm down the stretch of the game with touchdown passes to senior Ben Maehl and junior Shawn Huseby to bring the Eagles within a closer margin.
Hellgate had 236 yards rushing in the game – 121 of which came from Worster and 122 more from sophomore Jake Sweatland – while the team finished with 364 total yards. Hellgate’s defense came away with five turnovers – four of which were interceptions – including the fumble and pick-6. Coladonato had two interceptions while Sweatland had the other.
The 2-0 start, especially knowing where the program was three years ago, is not lost on Coladonato.
“My sophomore year I didn’t think we’d ever be able to do this. Through this big journey with everything, it’s been great to go through it with my teammates and make it happen,” Coladonato said. “It means a lot. It’s pretty much historical so it’s great to make history at my own high school.”
Big Sky finished with 376 yards of offense. Lincoln ended the game with 296 yards passing while Maehl was impressive with 8 catches for 149 yards and a score. Lincoln added 41 yards on the ground.
“We picked the wrong night to not play our best,” Big Sky coach Matt Johnson said. “We had a lot of mistakes and we needed some guys to step up at times but I give our guys credit. We finished strong and stayed with it and finished. Just too little, too late.
“We had a couple of adjustments at halftime and it worked. 21-14 in the second half but we need to be more resilient. We’ll be alright and get going next week.”
Hellgate (2-0) hosts Kalispell Flathead (0-3) next Friday while Big Sky (1-2) hosts Helena High (2-1) next Thursday.