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Undefeated state “A” champions
Dillon claims sixth state “A” championship since 2000 with 25-13 win
The Dillon Beavers dominated first half action on both sides of the ball at Billings Saturday afternoon and staved off a late Billings Central rally to claim a 25-13 victory in the Montana Class “A” state championship football finale. The victory gave Dillon their sixth state championship in eight title game contests since 2000.
“They were hitting hard and we stepped up to the challenge,” said Dillon coach Rick Nordahl on establishing the running game early in the contest. “You could hear those shots all around the stadium. We were able to pop some big ones and get on the board early. Defensively, that first half was just outstanding.”
Historically, the winner of the Dillon versus Billings Central matchup is the team that can stop the other team’s running attack. A year ago, Dillon couldn’t stop Central’s dive up the middle and suffered a defeat. On Saturday, Central was forced to try and run wide, and Dillon’s defense snuffed the run on a consistent basis.
Dillon rolled to an 18-0 first half lead and were never in danger of trailing in the game. Central failed to muster any offensive success in the first half, despite benefiting twice from good field position off Dillon turnovers.
On Dillon’s opening possession rolled up 31 yards of offense and appeared to be heading to the game’s first score when J.D. Ferris fumbled at the Central 34 on a fourth down play in which the junior quarterback had reached the line-to-gain.
Dillon stopped Central’s ensuing drive and the Ram punt covered just seven yards and Dillon capitalized with the explosive play on the first play of their second drive when senior captain Mick Paffhuasen snagged a short pass and popped off a long sprint of 71 yards to the end zone. Dillon would fail on the extra point attempt and led 6-0.
Central lost 9 yards on three plays and punted again.. Two plays later, Ferris broke through the line on a quarterback keeper and crossed the goal line on a 38-yard run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, 12-0.
Following another successful defensive stand, Ferris threw just his fourth interception of the season and Central set-up at mid-field. Dillon stopped the drive at their own 21, and Central’s field goal attempt failed.
Dillon had been run heavy with the play calling until their fifth drive of the half, having scored twice and turned the ball over twice in their four previous possessions. Dillon covered 80 yards with four passes and two runs, capped by a 29-yard scoring pass from Ferris to M.J. Simkins. Simkins gathered in the screen pass and after breaking through two defenders near the goal line, followed the convoy of Paffhausen and Troy Scott, fellow receivers blocking defensive backs all the way to the end zone. Dillon missed the point after and with just 3:14 left in the first half, led 18-0.
Central opened the second half with possession of the ball and on two possessions did not score. Dillon’s first possession in the third quarter ended in a punt, but as the third quarter neared expiration, the Beavers added another touchdown and extra point to control the game, 25-0.
Senior tight end Troy Scott did the bulk of the work on the scoring drive, gathering in a pass from Ferris, shaking a would be tackler, and running the ball to the Central 11 before being driven out of bounds following the 65-yard play. Three running plays later, Ferris snuck into the end zone behind all-state center Donovan Hucke.
Central responded with a seven play, 75-yard scoring drive in just under two minutes to tally a score and make it 25-7 at the end of the third quarter.
Dillon’s next drive stalled at midfield and the punt buried Central at their own 24, but a 51 yard pass play put Central in business and they would score again with 6:16 left in the game, 25-13.
An inspired Central defense forced the Beavers to punt after three downs but the Rams magic ran out with three straight incompletions. Dillon ended the game with possession of the ball and in victory formation.
Ferris completed 10-of-13 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another 73 yards and two touchdowns. The Beavers added 139 yards rushing for 384 yards of total offense. Colton Riebe gained 57 yards rushing on 14 carries in a key performance for Dillon’s offense.
The bulk of Central’s 306 yards of total offense came in the second half. Of the 163 receiving yards, 113 came on three plays.
“They had a few plays, they hit a back shoulder fade and then the kid stole it out of our hands on a sideline completion,” said Nordahl. “For the defense to step up and make them keep working, that was big. Central did score two touchdowns and it tightened up, but we got that stop and made a few first downs and it was time to celebrate.”
After two decades as an assistant coach, the title came in Nordahl’s first year as the Dillon Beaver head coach.
“It is all about our team and our kids and our team of coaches,” said Nordahl in an emotional post-game moment. “I have been so blessed to work with the greatest kids and the greatest coaches. That is the key to our success this year is those people. I love them and thank them.”
The win gave Dillon six titles in eight championship games since 2000. Central played in their seventh straight title game and eighth since 2004, but have won just two titles, both against Dillon.