MEDICINE LAKE — A touchdown run from Ashdyn Hobbs gave the Froid-Lake football team a 44-13 lead over White Sulphur Springs with 5:24 remaining in the State 6-Man title game Saturday afternoon. At that point, the Redhawks began to process what they were about to accomplish: their first state title in program history.
“The first ever,” Froid-Lake senior Walker Ator said to freshman teammate Mason Dethman on the sideline at the five-minute mark. “Are you kidding me?”
Ator wasn’t the only Redhawk who couldn’t believe what his team had achieved. Froid-Lake entered this fall merely trying to end a 14-year playoff drought. The No. 3-ranked Redhawks went 10-0, won every game by at least 16 points and capped the season with a 44-19 win over the No. 4 Hornets for state championship No. 1.
“I can’t even describe it,” Froid-Lake senior Colt Miller said in the middle of a frenzied crowd right after the trophy presentation. “No one thought we were going to make it this far. We set a standard from the first game on. To get it done, to represent all the teams before us that didn’t get it done, it’s amazing.”
In 1952, the Medicine Lake Honkers lost the State C 6-Man championship game 45-12 to Twin Bridges. Thirty-three years passed before the Honkers returned to that stage, and they lost the 1985 8-Man title game 24-16 to Terry.
Froid boys played for the Medicine Lake football team for many years before the team name included both schools. Froid-Lake reached the 8-Man championship game in 2000, and it lost to Wibaux 36-32.
Froid-Lake officially became a cooperative in 2004. One year later, the Redhawks lost to Wibaux in the first round of the 8-Man playoffs, and they went the next decade and a half without a playoff appearance.
Froid-Lake’s players and coaches had a good feeling the postseason drought would end this fall — as long as they could take the field, that is.
All of Montana’s high school spring sports were canceled in April because of the coronavirus pandemic, and fall sports athletes spent months wondering if their seasons would be scrapped, too. Fall sports began on schedule, but the uncertainty never disappeared. On Saturday, the state added 37 deaths and 1,660 new cases of COVID-19, both daily records.
Most of the people at Saturday’s 6-Man championship game wore masks, and attendance was somewhat limited. Physical distancing was minimal, especially during Froid-Lake’s post-title celebration on the field.
Unlike many Montana teams, COVID-19 did not cause any of Froid-Lake’s games to be canceled.
“We just tried to ignore all that stuff,” Miller said. “We did a pretty good job, but it gets to you after a while.”
On Sept. 12, Froid-Lake overcame a 13-0 deficit and beat now-No. 6 Savage 50-19. That’s when the Redhawks knew they could compete for a state title. They continued to prove it with playoff wins of 56-6 over Broadview-Lavina, 52-6 over No. 8 Harlowton-Ryegate and 42-26 over top-ranked Big Sandy last week.
“The excitement in the two communities, it’s been really fulfilling,” said Froid-Lake coach Michael Reiter, referring to Froid and Medicine Lake. “The kids deserve all the credit in the world.”
White Sulphur Springs (7-1) cut an 8-0 deficit to 8-6 in the first quarter and a 22-6 score to 22-13 in the second on Saturday, but Froid-Lake pulled away thanks in large part to its defense.
Freshman quarterback/safety Mason Dethman, who ran for a 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter, intercepted a pass and returned it 71 yards with 2:04 left in the third quarter to give the Redhawks a 38-13 lead. It was Dethman’s second pick of the game and Froid-Lake’s third (Brent Stentoft grabbed the other one in the first quarter when White Sulphur Springs was in the red zone).
The Redhawks were “bigger and stronger,” said Hornets coach Travis Novark, who praised Miller, Quinn Abar and Froid-Lake’s other defensive ends.
“We had a heck of a year,” Novark said. “We simply got beat by a better team.”
Froid-Lake has five seniors: Ator, Miller, Jason Eylander, Isaac Johnson and Jaxon Stangeland. Their faces lit up when Bozeman athletic director Mark Ator (Walker’s uncle) handed them the state trophy. Johnson’s eyes were red. The magnitude of Saturday’s accomplishment brought him to tears.
“I’ve been playing football for, I don’t know, since I was a third-grader,” Johnson said. “It’s all paid off.”