MISSOULA – The top-ranked Missoula Sentinel Spartans were tested time and again by a gritty No.3 team from the Kalispell Glacier on Friday night.
The Spartans (3-0) had to dive deep into their bag of stuff and come up with big plays late to secure a tight 29-21 victory over the Wolfpack (3-1). The Spartans remain impeccable after the Western AA test while the Wolfpack lost their first game of the season.
It was reminiscent of the Spartans’ season opener against Billings West: a playoff atmosphere, a strong, hungry opponent watching the best team in the state, but that same best team won a decisive victory.
As in that win in the West to open the season, the Spartans came out on top behind timely defensive play that saw Glacier star Jake Rendina put in a season low performance, and behind a attack with players who can score points at any time. notice when it rolls.
The Spartans have a goal on them, and head coach Dane Oliver knows as well as anyone that Sentinel is going to get the most out of every team they face this season, especially AA West teams like Glacier.
But even with the target, the Spartans again released a close game. In three games – just three because last week’s Hellgate game was called off due to a COVID-19 issue at Hellgate – the Spartans won by three points (West), 20 (Bozeman) and now eight this week in the closest game from the West win.
“This is how all of our football games are going to be this year,” said Oliver. “The West is a glove. Hat to Glacier coming down, fighting. Rendina is a burden, and I thought our kids fought and found a way to win.”
“It’s kind of our theme right now.”
Rendina was limited to just 73 rushing yards, his lowest just a meter after scoring 74 against Belgrade last week, and has scored twice – both in the second quarter. On the other side, Sentinel as a team ran for 231 yards and was led by the 111-yard rushing and 157-yard performance of quarterback Zac Crews. The senior Spartans star threw two touchdowns, the first a dart to Drew Klumph early and the second a strike to Peyton Stevens in the second quarter.
But Crews had his biggest highlight late.
Down 21-15 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter and facing a fourth and long just around midfield, the Spartans opened the playbook with some creativity.
Sentinel quarterback Zac Crews made a double pass for a 30-yard run on the straight sideline in front of Glacier Bench. He dove madly near the pylon and fell into the side camera operator before being judged out of the end zone. A few games later, after the end of the third quarter, Crews’ teammate Adam Jones scored the touchdown to give Sentinel a 22-21 lead after PAT with 11:28 on the clock.
The Spartans found the FCS South Dakota State program play on Twitter and easily found the right situation to pull it out in a close game.
âI stole it from Twitter,â Oliver said honestly. “… I’m not smart enough to make anything up, so you have to watch the others.”
Jones would later cement the game with a run from inside the red zone as he remained intact for the night’s final score. Jones scored two rushing goals in a 41-yard performance. While his stats weren’t the most mind-boggling, finishing third while rushing to his own team, the junior half-back showed a knack for coming in big when the Spartans needed an extra jerk.
But Jones noted after the game that his performance is the product of a larger theme for Sentinel. The Spartans’ offense is set in motion when the ball is scattered, when the hits go to three, four or five different players.
Between Crews (16), Jones (15) and Kellen Curtiss (8) all getting the bulk of the touches on the ground and eight different players catching passes, the Spartans showed their weapon depth after digging deep against Glacier.
âYou have to rely on each other,â Jones said. “One person cannot try to do too much, and that is the goal of this team. You have to do your job on the pitch.”
In one of the best games you would have watched all season, there was a lot of good.
Glacier had one of the cleanest punting games you could find on Patrick Rohrbach’s boot. He averaged 44 yards per punt and pinned the Spartans inside their own 20-yard line twice, once inside the 5. On the run after Sentinel had Unhooked from being stuck deep in their own red zone, Glaciers quarterback Gage Sliter found Jake Turner for a score and, at the time, a 21-15 lead in the third.
Rendina’s two touchdowns took place inside the red zone. The first he drilled through what looked like a big loss to use his massive frame to push his way for a TD.
His second was a little easier, spending most of the time comparatively intact.
Glacier will face Helena Capital (3-1) next week in Kalispell. Sentinel got Helena High (3-1), who beat Missoula Hellgate by 57 points at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.