Sentinel repeats as Class AA Montana state champion behind Zac Crews’ big night

Rob Stanton had a sense that the Sentinel Spartans would have a wrinkle ready for the Montana ‘AA’ state championship game.

Sentinel coach Dane Oliver didn’t disappoint his opposing coach.

“Dane just does a good job with adding some things that are totally unexpected,” said Stanton, the Billings West coach, earlier in the week.

Sentinel pulled out all the stops as it won a second consecutive big-school Class AA Montana state championship, 35-6, over the visiting Golden Bears on Friday night at Missoula County Stadium.

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From the three jump passes executed by senior quarterback Zac Crews, to a fake field goal, to the successful onside kick to begin the third quarter, the Spartans seemed to surprise the Golden Bears at every turn.

Sentinel completed its second consecutive unbeaten season at 11-0, extending the seventh-best all-time Montana win streak to 21 games. Billings West (10-2) has lost three times over those same two seasons, going 19-3 with all the losses coming at the hands of the Spartans.

University of Montana-committed Crews threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more, stamping his mark on all five Sentinel scoring drives after a small hiccup on the game’s opening possession.

Sentinel had a first-and-10 at its own 37 after a first down gained on the game’s opening drive. Crews turned and tried to pitch the ball that ended up as a fumble recovered by Billings West at the Sentinel 33 with 10 minutes, 55 seconds to play in the first quarter.

As it did all night, the Spartan defense rose to the occasion.

Four plays later, Golden Bears running back Michael DeLeon was stopped for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-three. West turned the ball back on downs and it was all Sentinel from there.

Sentinel took the lead with just under four and a half minutes to play in the first quarter when Crews found his tight end, Joseph Weida, with a previously little-used or seen jump pass. Weida caught the deceptive delivery, turned and finished a 24-yard scoring play.

The same combination then immediately connected on the same play for a two-point conversion and the Spartans led it, 8-0. A couple of possessions later, Sentinel burst through the line on a fourth-and-16 for the Golden Bears and blocked the punt.

That set Sentinel up at the West 12-yard line. It was Crews again, this time with a two-yard run (his 17th rushing touchdown of the season) that extended the lead to 15-0. The deficit is the largest faced by Billings West all season.

Late in the first half, the Golden Bears shaved that margin to nine, 15-6, when Claunch found Max Kimble for a 22-yard scoring strike. Sentinel again blocked a kick, however, leaving it a 15-6 game at the half.

That largest deficit only grew after the break.

Two plays after the Spartans had pounded an onside kick off a West receiver on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Crews went 55-yards to Easton Leadbetter for a touchdown and a 22-6 lead. Weida’s second jump-pass TD came four plays after Crews picked up a first down on a fake 40-yard field attempt for a 29-6 advantage.

And Crews finished the scoring with a four-yard run with 7:22 left to play.

The 35 points were, by far, the most allowed this season by Billings West. The previous high was the 22 that Sentinel scored in the season-opening 22-19, non-league victory.

And defensively? The Spartans held Claunch to a miserable four of 11 passing for 26 yards, and the Bears to a season-low six points, well shy of the 39 West came into the game averaging.


Tip of the cap to a memorable group of Billings West seniors – and a grandfather who is never far away

Doug Drowley

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