Best served cold!

Laurel pummels Central to win first State title in 18 years
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, November 19, 2020
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Loco wide receiver Jack Waddell is hoisted by fellow seniors Colter Bales (29) and Jace McNeil (24) after he caught a 10–yard touchdown pass from Eli Aby during the 34–0 rout of Billings Central at the Class A State Championship game on Saturday. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

Laurel senior Jack Waddell shakes two defenders and tiptoes down the sideline en route to the first score of the game during the Class A State Championship against Billings Central.

Laurel senior Jack Waddell shakes two defenders and tiptoes down the sideline en route to the first score of the game during the Class A State Championship against Billings Central.

The officials break up a scuffle between Laurel and Billings Central players after a Loco touchdown during their 34–0 State Championship victory in Lockwood on Nov. 14.

The officials break up a scuffle between Laurel and Billings Central players after a Loco touchdown during their 34–0 State Championship victory in Lockwood on Nov. 14.

The Laurel Locomotives celebrate after the Class A State Championship trophy presentation on Saturday in Lockwood. Outlook photos by Chris McConnell

The Laurel Locomotives celebrate after the Class A State Championship trophy presentation on Saturday in Lockwood. Outlook photos by Chris McConnell

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Senior offensive/defensive lineman Gabe Hernandez shares a moment with Coach Jon Hicks after the State Championship game where the Laurel defense held the Rams scoreless. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

The sting of being on the losing end against bitter rival Billings Central in regular season and playoff games for years was erased in an instant Nov. 14 when the Locos steamrolled the undefeated Rams 34–0 to win the 2020 Class A State Championship.

On Saturday at Lockwood Stadium in 40 mph gusts with wind chills in the low 20s, Laurel faced Central in their first–ever title game matchup in the 69 year rivalry and delivered the Rams a second half beating for the ages.

Head Coach Mike Ludwig, who is in his 19th year at Laurel, said they watched the weather all week and anticipated cool temperatures and wind. “We understood it was going to be difficult to throw the ball. We knew we would be running the ball more and special teams was going to be the biggest factor. We already had the rugby kick and Tyler [Emineth] worked on his squib kicks leading up to the game.”

After a scoreless first quarter which saw errant passes and shanked punts, the Locos drew first blood on a 30–yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Jack Waddell. He dodged the defense while tiptoeing down the sideline but dropped the ball on the five. Momentum carried him and the ball in the end zone where he recovered it, and after the ensuing dog-pile and scuffle got sorted out, Tyler Emineth hit the extra point and the Locos led 7–0. “I don’t really know what happened. I just dropped the ball,” Waddell said.

Kyson Moran picked off Central on their next drive then each team turned the ball over on downs going into the half.

In the wind and cold it was expected to be a low scoring and tight game and the players admitted being a bit nervous. Coach Ludwig said, “There was some uneasiness in the locker room. The second half could have been anybody’s game.” Senior quarterback Eli Aby said, “It was intense at halftime. The coaches got the offensive line focused.” Waddell added, “Going into the second half I was so nervous. I thought it would be a nail-biter at the end.”

Ludwig said the strategy all year was to get the 2nd half kickoff when possible. “We like to defer the kickoff on the coin flip and we were feeling good getting the ball to start the 3rd quarter. I told the kickoff return team we had seen them practicing their pooch kick.”

The Locos started their drive on their own 34–yard line and after Senior Jaxon Wittmayer ran to the 38 for a short gain, everything changed.

Ludwig said, “Jack (Waddell) getting into the open field is scary,” and the Rams were stunned when he took the handoff and streaked 62 yards for the touchdown only 40 seconds into the 3rd quarter. “The offensive line did a tremendous job opening the hole for him.” After an Emineth extra point the score was 14–0.

The Rams turned the ball over on downs on their next possession and the Locos pushed the defense backwards on hard fought yardage. “The wind made the field smaller. It’s hard to run in the middle and we struggled running inside the tackles,” Ludwig said.

Laurel got to the 3 yard line before Aby punched it in and the rout was on. After a penalty and a failed two–point conversion the Locos led 20–0.

On the first play of Central’s next possession, Waddell picked off a pass that got hung up in the wind and the Locos started their drive on the Rams own 15 yard line as the third quarter ended.

Laurel failed to convert on a 4th and 4 on Central’s 9 yard line to start the 4th quarter, but the Rams fumbled on 2nd and 5 to give the ball back.

Aby said, “We knew passing was going to be tough, we just had to hit a few.” He did exactly that four plays later when he connected with Waddell on a 10–yard TD pass. Emineth nailed the point–after and Laurel was up 27–0.

Central looked dejected at this point and were a different team than early in the game. Aby said, “They were mouthy in warmups but got quiet in the second half.”

After Central turned the ball over on downs after a 14–yard drive, Aby handed it off to junior running back Beau Dantic who took the ball on a 74–yard victory lap to the end zone to put the historic game in the books at 34–0.


The Road to the Title

The Locos’ march to this year’s State title began after their heartbreaking 35–7 loss to Miles City in the Championship game last year. It was a bittersweet end to a 2019 season which saw Laurel knock off Central 33–0 on the road for their first win over their arch rival in 19 attempts.

Head Coach Mike Ludwig said, “In last year’s championship we turned the ball over too much. You can’t have three turnovers in any game. The loss stung. It seemed like the team was just happy to be there. The motivation was higher to not just get back this year, but to win. We had our entire offensive line back, plus our quarterback and defensive starters. The kids practiced hard to get better.”

Laurel didn’t take the title defeat lying down and they started preparations for this year’s run in the spring, but then the virus hit and they had to make adjustments. When Laurel Schools went to online learning the weight room closed and the players had to improvise. Coach Ludwig said “we usually have ‘open field’ in April or May but we weren’t able to do any of that.”

Senior running back and linebacker James Ochs said fellow Senior Colter Bales “built a squat rack in his shop during the lockdown in the spring because we couldn’t use the weight room.” After the weight room opened back up Ochs said, “It was the biggest turnout over the summer. Everybody got bigger and stronger over the year.”

Senior offensive lineman Connor Ulschak agreed. “We had the most guys ever in the Iron Club.”

Coach Ludwig said, “Championships are won in the offseason” and described the Iron Club as the summer program where players dedicate 37–38 days to football related activities which includes weight training, camps and scrimmages. “We got started June 1 and had a good core group of kids, but the team camp was cancelled and our 7– on–7 sessions in Billings were limited.”

The uncertainty of the 2020 season didn’t deter the Locos from achieving most of their four pre–season goals, which Ochs said were: “Beat Central, make the playoffs, win the conference and win State.”

During their 8–1 season, the Locos didn’t have a game closer than 21 points until the State semifinals, other than the 28–14 loss to the Rams on Sept. 25., a game which Ludwig called a blessing. “The team didn’t play well and struggled when they fell behind. We didn’t handle the adversity very well and were a little overconfident. The loss woke the kids up and focused them to practice harder and do things better.”

Waddell, who transferred from Livingston as a junior, said of their overall dominance on the year, “The teams weren’t expecting how physical we were,” and Aby added, “And we weren’t playing bad teams.”

The Locos, who’s highest ranking in the state on the season was #4, finished their year knocking off two undefeated teams in Hamilton and Billings Central. Aby said “Hamilton was the best team we faced the entire year.” Ludwig said the road win in the semifinals was a “huge victory against a team with so many weapons.”



This was the fourth appearance in the State Championship for the Locomotives and their third title since 1999 where they went undefeated and beat Hamilton 21–10. They won their second championship in 2002, beating Havre 21–19. They fell to Miles City 35–7 last year and, of course, won this year.

It was the 75th time Laurel and Central have met since Sept. 19, 1951 when the Rams won 19–7. Central holds the series lead 56–18–1. The teams have met five times in the postseason with Laurel’s rival holding a slim 3–2 lead.

Although any State Championship victory is important, this win was something special to the Loco players, coaches and Laurel community. Activities Director Dominick Vergara, who along with all the Laurel players, coaches and fans was ecstatic at the end of the game, called it “the biggest win in school history.”

Ochs said that while last year’s road victory over Central was sweet, “This game was our best all–time win.”

Coach Ludwig said, “It definitely ranks up there as one of the biggest wins. It was our biggest margin of victory [in a championship game] and we did it against Billings Central.”

Aby, who is heading off to play football for the Bobcats next fall, agreed it was a monumental win and said with a sly grin, “Central has only been shut out three times [in 19 years] and we did it twice.”


Upcoming Events

Monday, March 8, 2021
Mondays, 1:30 p.m., 201 1/2 E Main St.
Monday, March 8, 2021
Second & fourth Monday at 11 a.m., Big Horn Resort, 1801 Majestic Lane, 281-8455
Monday, March 8, 2021
Free, 2nd Monday, 3-5 p.m., Frontier Cancer Center, 1315 Golden Valley Cir., Billings, 800-227-2345
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Wednesdays, 7 p.m., 201 1/2 E. Main St., Laurel
Thursday, March 11, 2021
2nd Thursday, 6 p.m., Council Chambers
Monday, March 15, 2021
Mondays, 1:30 p.m., 201 1/2 E Main St.


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