Locos steamroll into title game

By 
Joe Kusek
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Junior Linebacker Aden Winder sprawls out in an attempt to stop a Polson player from scoring during the Locos’ 28–14 state semifinal win over the Pirates on Saturday. Photos courtesy Kathleen Linger

Junior Linebacker Aden Winder sprawls out in an attempt to stop a Polson player from scoring during the Locos’ 28–14 state semifinal win over the Pirates on Saturday. Photos courtesy Kathleen Linger

Senior Running Back Beau Dantic looks to stiff–arm a defensive player during Laurel’s win over Polson on Saturday. The undefeated Locos downed Polson 28–14 to advance to the Class A State Championship game for the third consecutive year.

Senior Running Back Beau Dantic looks to stiff–arm a defensive player during Laurel’s win over Polson on Saturday. The undefeated Locos downed Polson 28–14 to advance to the Class A State Championship game for the third consecutive year.

Senior Quarterback Kyson Moran looks to hand the ball off during Saturday’s action at the Laurel Sports Complex. Photo courtesy Kathleen Linger

Senior Quarterback Kyson Moran looks to hand the ball off during Saturday’s action at the Laurel Sports Complex. Photo courtesy Kathleen Linger

They come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments.

And while different, the seniors on the Laurel football team share a common trait.

“They know how to win,” said Mike Ludwig, the Locomotives head coach.

No argument there. Laurel (10-0) will be playing in its third consecutive Class A state championship game on Saturday, hosting Hamilton (10-0) at 1 p.m. at the Laurel Sports Complex.

The defending state champions defeated the Broncs 28-21 in the semifinals last year.

While winning is not – Laurel also won titles in 1999 and 2002 – hosting is something new for the Locomotives.

“This is the first time we have a chance to win a state title on our home field,” said Ludwig whose team has reached the semifinals the past four years and the playoffs for 13 straight. “We’re excited to host the state championship game. We excited for our program, excited for our fans and excited for the Laurel community.”

The Locomotives earned the right to defend their title with a 28-14 windblown victory over Polson.

Quarterback Kyson Moran threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. Beau Dantic rushed for 118 yards and turned a screen pass into a momentumchanging 74-yard touchdown right before halftime.

“It’s so damn hard to get to the championship game. So many things have to go right for you,” Ludwig said. “All the credit goes to our players. They have bought into what we want to do in our football program … getting into the weight room, coming to our camps, putting in the off-season work.

“This is reaping the fruits of our labor.”

Dalton Boehler added a diving grab for a score and Owen Wilcox had a touchdown run.

“That’s definitely our goal,” said Dantic of playing in the championship game. “It’s the goal every year.

“But we can’t be satisfied. We have another game to play.”

Hamilton advanced with a 28-7 win over Lewistown in the semifinals. University of Montana commit Tyson Rostad threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. He had scoring passes of 45, 23 and 6 yards. The Hamilton defense had six interceptions, including two by Tyler Bauder.

“Hamilton is a very good team, they are very well coached,” Dantic said.

The Broncs have been in the playoffs every year since 2013, losing to Billings Central and Columbia Falls, respectively in the 2017 and 2018 title games. Hamilton won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 before losing to Laurel in 1999.

“It starts with their quarterback,” Ludwig said of the Broncs. “He’s a good athlete, a strong kid and he’s not afraid of contact.”

The Locomotives will stick to their game plan.

“It’s the same thing every game,” continued Ludwig. “We can’t have a lot of mistakes. You can’t make a lot of mistakes against them. They will make you pay for your mistakes.

“And we have got to tackle well. We can allow them to get extra yards after contact.”

The Laurel defense kept Polson’s pass-happy offense in check, pressuring quarterback Jarrett Wilson all afternoon. Wilson finished with 219 yards passing. He also ran the ball 13 times for 19 yards.

“Our secondary played outstanding,” said Ludwig. “They didn’t give him any time to throw.”

Dantic’s screen pass score came with the game tied 7-7. He took the pass on the right side, moved down the sideline, then cut free into the middle.

“We wanted to move the chains and get the first down,” he said. “I was focusing on staying in-bounds to keep the clock running. I saw one guy was in front of me and once I had him beat, I had open field in front of me. I was completely shocked.”

The Laurel defense, along with putting up a goal-line stand early, forced Polson to turn the ball over four times on downs. Jakob Webinger’s interception set up the Locomotives first score.

Now Laurel is one win away from a repeat.

“The seniors, they’ve won a lot of football games in their careers,” said Ludwig. “Starting with Little Guy and youth football, through middle school and high school. They’re used to winning.

“Their experience definitely doesn’t hurt us. They’ve been in the pressure cooker. We’ve had some close games this year … Lewistown, Glendive … they handle pressure well.

“The biggest thing I like about this group is they know how to win.”

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