Beavers lose playoff heartbreaker to Miles City

J.P. Plutt
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
On the move

Dillon senior quarterback Jace Fitzgerald finds a crease in the line and takes off for positive yardage. Fitzgerald ran for 83 yards and threw for 228 in Dillon’s 26-21 loss to Miles City on Saturday. Teri Haverfield photo


Dillon senior safety Michael Hupp ends Miles City’s first drive with an interception. Hupp would later haul in a touchdown pass. Teri Haverfield photo

The Dillon Beavers appeared safely in control of their Class A quarterfinal playoff football game versus Miles City on Saturday until late in the second half when the Cowboys broke the hearts of Dillon Beaver Nation with an upset win, 26-21.

“It was a really tightly contested football game where we had a few things that didn’t go our way,” said Dillon coach Zach McRae. “They made some plays down the stretch that were the difference in the game.”

Despite Dillon winning the battle of total yardage and leading throughout the majority of the ball game, two plays in the second half turned the momentum towards the Eastern A foe.

With Dillon marching toward a game clinching, two score lead late in the fourth quarter, Miles City linebacker Dalton Tvedt intercepted a Jace Fitzgerald pass and returned it 53 yards to the Dillon 19-yard line. Four plays later, the Cowboys took advantage of the break and scored a touchdown with just 4:29 left in the game, to pull within an extra point of the Beavers, 20-21.

“They mixed up some pressure and ended up bringing six on us and the middle backer floated with Jace’s eyes and really made a nice play,” said McRae of the third and short play that had all the receivers running short hitch patterns. “Good job on Jace tracking him down and getting him on the ground.”

Cowboy coach Jeff Regan went for the win and a two-point conversion. Dillon’s Treyton Anderson intercepted the ball, leaving the Beavers in the lead by a point.

Just four plays into their ensuing possession, the Beavers faced a fourth down situation with about a foot to go for a first down. McRae opted to go for the first down and the likely victory the extended possession would deliver, but the Cowboys stuffed the run and erupted with the emotion that a momentum turning play creates.

“We tried to draw them offsides there,” said McRae of his team lining up in formation and Fitzgerald barking a cadence before taking a time out. “I’ve always been somebody that went after wins. I talked to the coaches and just said, ‘I’m going for it.’”

“I think anytime one of those don’t go your way, they get a lot of focus, but we went for one and got it in the first half in a similar situation and it went in our favor,” continued McRae. “The second time, they knifed everybody in and they got ahold of Jace’s legs.”

Three plays after taking possession, Cowboy QB Carson Hunter lofted a 39-yard touchdown pass to running back Damian Leidholt. The two-point coversion pass fell incomplete, but the Cowboys enjoyed their first lead of the game, 26-21, with just 2:19 left on the clock. Miles City had scored two touchdowns in two minutes and 10 seconds of game clock.

The Beavers had little trouble moving the ball on the offensive side throughout the game and the late possession proved no different. The Beavers started with possession on their own 22 and quickly advanced to the Cowboy 28, but there was less than 30 seconds on the game clock.

“We were trying to go to Kirkley in the middle of the field,” described McRae. “They went back to a coverage we hadn’t seen since the first half and they had him covered up. Jace scrambled and tried to throw the ball away and they intercepted it in the end zone.”

Miles City took a knee on their one play after the turnover and then began celebrating their upset victory.

“Anytime you lose a football game, let alone a playoff football game, I get an empty pit in my stomach I just can’t get rid of,” said McRae. “I’m just so proud of our kids, they just have endless fight in them, and when it was over they handled the loss with class just as they had in all the wins before.”

The first half of the football game proved that possession of the ball would become vital. Both teams would go on time consuming drives limiting possessions to three each by halftime.

Miles City opened with possession of the ball and drove 43 yards, primarily by the run, before turning the ball over on a pass attempt from their stellar quarterback Carson Hunter to their top receiver Jayden Venable.

“We were sitting in Cover 3 and they did a little half roll to the right and good job Michael Hupp in staying in his position and reading the quarterback’s eyes and floating over and making the interception,” explained the Beaver coach.

Dillon would then move the ball downfield on an 11-play, 73-yard drive capped by a trick play score. Fitzgerald took the snap and ran right and then pitched the ball to receiver Jonathan Kirkley on what appeared to be a reverse. As he moved into the left side of the field, Kirkley pulled up and connected with senior reciever Cole Truman on an 8-yard scoring pass.

Miles City capped a 10-play drive to score their first touchdown on a run, but the kick failed, leaving Dillon ahead, 7-6.

The Beavers capped a 15- play drive with a Fitzgerald pass to Hupp for a 16-yard scoring connection. Jonny Reiser’s second extra point kick gave Dillon a 14-6 lead with 2:42 left in the half.

Miles City struck quickly, capping a 5-play drive with a 13- yard scoring pass from Hunter to Venable against a busted Dillon pass coverage.

“They run verticals with a form of a cross and we didn’t pass it off correctly and the quarterback made a nice read there,” said McRae of the play.

Miles City would successfully complete a two-point conversion pass to tie the game at 14-14.

Dillon took over possession with just 30 seconds left until halftime and Fitzgerald completed two nice passes to get Dillon within field goal range. Reiser was accurate, but the 40-yard attempt came just short of the crossbar.

The Beavers opened the second half on the back of freshman runner Kale Konen who caught two passes for 38 yards and ran twice for 5 yards on the first four plays. Fitzgerald took over with a short run and then a touchdown pass to Reiser, giving Dillon a 21-14 lead on Reiser’s extra point kick. The lead held until late in the fourth quarter.


First Quarter

DIL – Cole Truman 8 pass from Jonathan Kirkley (Jonny Reiser kick), 00:18.

Second Quarter

MC – Jayden Venable 2 run (kick failed), 8:19.

DIL – Michael Hupp 16 pass from Jace Fitzgerald (Reiser kick), 2:42.

MC – Carson Hunter 2 run (Damian Leidholt pass from Hunter), 00:34.

Third Quarter

DIL – Reiser 22 pass from Fitzgerald (Reiser kick), 9:19.

Fourth Quarter

MC – Hunter 2 run (pass failed), 4:29.

MC – Leidholt 39 pass from Hunter (pass failed), 2:19.

Team Stats DIL MC


First downs 17 17

Rushes-yds (net) 27-113 34-147

Comp-Att-yds 21-33-236 11-18-147

Passes had int. 2 2

Total off plays-yds 60-349 52-294

Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0

Penalties-yds 4-35 8-47

Dillon Individual Stats

Rushing (att.–yds) – Michael Hupp 2-14, Jace Fitzgerald 19-83, Kale Konen 6-16. Passing (comp.-att.-int-yds-TD) Jona

Passing (comp.-att.-int-yds-TD) Jonathan Kirkley 1-1-0-8-1, Fitzgerald 20- 32-2-236-0. Receiving – Daxon Graham 2-16, Jona

Receiving – Daxon Graham 2-16, Jonathan Kirkley 3-39, Jonny Reiser 5-56, Cole Truman 6-74, Mike Hupp 1-16.

Class A Playoff series

4E Sidney 6, 1W Hamilton 24.

3W Frenchtown 13, 2E Laurel 35.

3E Miles City 26, 2W Dillon 21.

4W Columbia Falls 8, 1E Billings Central 35.

Semifinal Round – Nov. 6-7. Laurel at Hamilton; Miles City at Billings Central.

Championship – Nov. 13 or 14.