Locos take on pass-happy Pirates

By 
Joe Kusek
Thursday, November 11, 2021
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The Locos come out of the tunnel before their quarterfinal playoff game on Saturday. Laurel pulled away from a halftime tie to beat Frenchtown 34–17 and advance to the Class A State semifinals. Photo courtesy Kathleen Linger

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Senior linebacker Beau Dantic gets dragged down the field as he tries to stop a Frenchtown player from scoring during the Locos’ 34–17 win on Nov. 6. Photo courtesy Kathleen Linger

If the Laurel football team wants to play in its third consecutive Class A state championship game, the Locomotives defense will have to flip the script.

A week ago, Laurel game-planned to stop Frenchtown’s running game.

The Locomotives were successful, overcoming some early mistakes for a 34-17 victory in the quarterfinals.

Playing in the semifinals a fourth straight season, Laurel (9-0) will now host pass-happy Polson (10-0) at 1 p.m. at the Sports Complex.

The other semifinal has Lewistown playing at Hamilton.

The Locomotives last played Polson in the 2012, a 9-7 loss in the quarterfinals.

Saturday’s meeting should put more points on the scoreboard.

Polson advanced with a 49-28 win over Billings Central. Junior quarterback Jarrett Wilson threw six touchdown passes, three to Colton Graham.

“Their quarterback is really good,” said Laurel head coach Mike Ludwig of the catalyst to the Pirates’ no-huddle offense. “He’s been a starter since was a freshman … he’s taken a lot of reps.

“He throws the ball well and has a quick release. The scary thing about him is he is able to run the ball when he has to.”

Wilson, who threw for 412 yards against the Rams, also had 92 yards rushing and returned a fumble 50 yards for a score.

“We definitely have to get a good pass rush,” Ludwig said. “And when we hit him, we have to wrap him up. And our coverage has to be good.

“They can put a lot of points on the board in a hurry. We’ve played teams that have thrown the ball, but not at this capacity.”

Laurel got off to an inauspicious start against Frenchtown, fumbling away the opening kickoff at the 5-yard line. But the Broncs could not capitalize and settled for a 19-yard field goal.

“We were fortunate to get out of that situation,” said Ludwig. “I thought the defense did a tremendous job stopping them and limiting them to three points.”

Laurel turned a 12-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kyson Moran and a scoop-and-score by Owen Younger after Jakob Webinger blocked a punt to lead 14-3.

But the Broncs turned a Moran interception and the recovery of the ensuing onside kick into 14 quick points and 17-14 lead.

Laurel, with no time outs, moved the ball 44 yards on seven plays, capped by Kyle DeSmet’s 26-yard field goal as time expired.

“We went into halftime looking at it as 0-0, a new half,” said Moran.

Ludwig kept his halftime message short.

“The biggest message I had was real simple,” he said. “Play hard. Don’t take any plays off or you will regret it.”

Moran had interceptions on consecutive Frenchtown possessions that the Locomotives made into 10 points. The first, a 27-yard field by DeSmet for the go-ahead score, followed by a 24-yard scoring run by Beau Dantic.

“I’ve got to take back what I gave away,” Moran said of his game-changing picks.

Moran finished 17 of 23 passing for 172 yards, dropping a 17-yard touchdown pass into the hands of Konnor Gregerson for Laurel’s final score. Moran also rushed for 106 yards.

“Kyson had a good football game on both sides of the ball,” said Ludwig.

Dantic carried the ball 21 times for 112 yards.

Laurel also got second-half interceptions from Dalton Boehler and Shel Osborne.

“Our defense did tremendous,” said Ludwig. “I thought our kids did a nice job of not panicking and overcoming some of those situations.”

Laurel is making its 13th consecutive appearance in the playoffs.

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