BILLINGS — Zac Crews is going to need a little dental work in the not-so-far future.
Tooth chipped in half or not, the Missoula Sentinel receiving weapon and defensive standout was all smiles as the Spartans celebrated their 24-15 Class AA Championship win over Billings West on Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium on Friday night.
It was the first win for the Spartans in the state title game since 1972 in their first appearance in the game since 1984. A broken tooth and bloody lip have to be worth that, no?
“I mean I can’t even feel it right now, I’ve got so much adrenaline flowing,” said Crews, who finished with five catches for 73 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “I’m probably going to feel it when we get back to the hotel.”
Both of those touchdown catches were critical for the Spartans, who have to be pretty happy Crews was able to play through the dental injury. West and Sentinel traded touchdowns early and a Golden Bears field goal gave the home team a 9-7 lead with 1:55 left in the first quarter.
But Crews and quarterback Dayton Bay helped Sentinel put together a methodical, 11-play, 65-yard drive that gave it a 14-9 lead. The Spartans never trailed again.
“I'm having trouble replaying the sequence of how everything went down, honestly,” Missoula Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver said. "You know, I just thought that the kids stepped up. And I thought every possession was critical. I mean, it was back and forth. And then who would have thought we’d all be settling for field goals?”
Sentinel, who finishes the season 10-0, held a slim 14-12 lead at halftime after one of those aforementioned field goals from Billings West kicker Spencer Berger. The junior kicker hit all three of his field goal attempts on the night.
Spartan kicker Camdin Dirnberger drilled another field goal after another huge play from Crews. With Camden Sirmon in the game at quarterback, the senior signal-caller faked a run before finding Crews, who had squeezed out over the middle for a long gain, gashing the middle of a tough West defense.
The Bears ended up stalling out the drive inside the 10-yard line, but Sentinel got the points it needed to give itself a little breathing room.
“We played our ass off, there’s nothing else we can really do there. They’re a great team, we’re a great team, we gave it all we got,” West wideout Neil Daily said. “They just made more plays than us and that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes.”
West would climb back within two points on a Berger kick, but a long return from Donovan South on the ensuing kickoff set up the Spartans with excellent field position.
After Jace Klucewich got the Spartans inside the 10-yard line on a handoff, it was Crews turn, again, to find the end zone. The score came on a third-and-goal from the eight, with Crew sneaking to the back of the end zone and Bay found him
“He put it up in a place where I could go get it,” Crews said. “He found me in the back of the end zone where I could make a play on it.”
Added Bay: "You always love a big target who can go up and get the ball. It doesn't get better than that, seeing the smile on his face. I mean he broke a tooth, snapped it."
Bay finished 9 of 13 passing for 136 yards, while Sirmon competed 8 of 16 passes for 110 yards. Sentinel had 355 yards of total offense and Klucewich hauled in five passes for 61 yards. TJ Rausch had Sentinel's other touchdown and finished with four catches for 64 yards.
Crews added on six tackles and had a sack, while Klucewich and Roman Knowles each had seven tackles to lead the Spartans. Daily had 14 tackles to lead West.
Jaymn Medlock had 17 rushes for 130 yards for the Bears.
Klucewich ended the game with a pair of clutch interceptions and Sentinel is now the reigning state champions.
“The formula we put together, the kids bought into it,” Oliver said. “To see the kids reward for that, it gives me hope in a crazy, crazy world.”