COLUMBIA FALLS — Columbia Falls came up big when it had to, pulling away from Hamilton in the fourth quarter to win the Class A football state championship game 26-14 on Saturday in front of a raucous home crowd at Satterthwaite Field.
A year after getting run off its own field in the title game, the Wildcats took the game to Hamilton the entire contest. Columbia Falls ran for 369 yards and nearly doubled the Broncs’ output in the game. The Wildcats’ defense forced Hamilton into an interception and made four fourth-down stops in the second half to hold on for its first state title in school history.
“You can’t describe it. It’s the best feeling in the world, I’m so excited,” senior Logan Kolodejchuk said.
“Everybody just dug deep. It came from the bottom of their hearts. We got it done ... It’s the best feeling in the world to come back and show that we’re No. 1.”
Playing with a big cushion for most of the game, Columbia Falls put the game away in the fourth quarter with two big plays.
Defending the Broncs on fourth-and-1 from the Hamilton 43-yard line, Columbia Falls stuffed running back Bridger Bauder in the backfield to get the ball back to its offense. On the next play, senior quarterback Austin Green found senior receiver Ben Windauer behind the defense for a 42-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats a 26-14 lead and put the game out of reach.
“That was a hitch-and-go, actually,” Green said. “Ben read the route a little, his guy was too far outside so he just offed it and ran a post and it was wide open. Props to him on that.”
“Right when the play snapped, I knew I was open going down field,” Windauer said. “I turned my head, saw the ball and knew I had to go up for it. I caught the ball and made it happen.”
“It was unbelieveable, I knew from that moment that it was over,” Green said.
Columbia Falls stopped Hamilton on five plays following the touchdown and ran out the final 5:41 to win the game.
“We knew we were grinding them and they were going to have to commit to (the run) and we were going to take a couple of shots late, try to break the game open late. And it worked,” Columbia Falls coach Jackson Schweikert said.
“That was the whole idea of the game. We have a great offensive line and great running backs and our quarterback is a great runner. Our defense is the best that we’ve had since we’ve been here and every team we’ve played they’ve had a hard time scoring on us. If we didn’t put those guys in bad positions, we felt like Hamilton was going to have a hard time scoring on us. We just kinda controlled the clock and controlled the field position and never put our defense in a bad position. It worked out well for us.”
It is the first championship in three tries for the Wildcats. Columbia Falls lost hosting title games in 1970 and 2016.
Green finished 12 of 20 passing for 153 yards and two touchdowns and had 157 rushing yards. Junior back Colten McPhee had a game-high 182 rushing yards on 28 carries and Windauer finished with five catches for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s awesome,” Windauer said. “We’ve dreamed of this ever since we were little. It’s finally here. We did it. I’m so proud of my teammates.”
Columbia Falls controlled the game on the ground from the start, rushing nine times for 65 yards on its opening drive, capping it with a 22-yard field goal from Auguste Emond.
Emond, the leading goal scorer on the Wildcats soccer team, carried the team for most of the night, making four of six field goal attempts to help Columbia Falls build a healthy lead despite frequently stalling in the red zone.
“Thank God we have a really good kicker, who just kept drilling them for us,” Schweikert said.
“Usually we’re really good in the red zone. But, you’re in the state championship and those guys (Hamilton) are really good. Hamilton is a really good team. They’re really good defensively and they’re really good offensively. They’re well-coached and they were able to stone us down there. They just put more people in the box and it was hard to punch it in.
“At one point we almost went for a 50-yarder. We were going to go for it, because he can drill them.”
After forcing Hamilton to a three-and-out on its first possession, Columbia Falls turned to the run game again, rushing the ball nine straight plays to the Hamilton 3-yard line. The Wildcats caught the Broncs off guard, springing their first pass of the game from the goal line, Green connecting with Windauer on a sprint out to the flat for an easy touchdown and a 10-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
Columbia Falls stalled at the Hamilton 15 on its next drive and missed a field goal, then settled for field goals on its next two drives before half.
Hamilton found space in the middle of the Wildcats defense late in the second quarter, Carson Rostad finding Camron Rothie for a 41-yard pass to advance inside the Columbia Falls 10. The Broncs scored two plays later to cut their halftime deficit to 16-7.
The Wildcats intercepted Rostad on the first play of the second half but couldn’t capitalize, stalling again at the Hamilton 6 and missing a short field goal. Columbia Falls forced a fumble on Hamilton’s next drive but couldn’t recover, instead stopping the Broncs on fourth down. Columbia Falls had another fourth down stop on defense before Emond’s fourth field goal of the afternoon gave the Wildcats a 19-7 lead.
Hamilton scored on its next drive, as Bauder got free on a wheel route inside the Wildcats 5 and hauled in a wide-open score to cut the lead to 19-14.
Columbia Falls stalled in Hamilton territory again on its next drive but came up with the big stop on Hamilton four plays later to set up Windauer’s sealing touchdown.
“In every big game it always comes down to four or five plays,” Schweikert said. “You never knew when those plays are going to come.
“We stopped them enough on fourth-and-short, that was some big plays. Thank goodness for having a great D-line and great linebackers.”
The Wildcats have slowly been building towards this since Schweikert took over in 2012. Since then, the Wildcats have won the Northwest conference twice times and made it to state title games in back-to-back seasons, setting a slew of state records in the process.
“It’s big. Moreso for me, it’s huge for our some of our coaches that have been here for 20 years. It’s huge for this community,” Schweikert said.
“They had really great coaches here and really great kids. They do a great job. I’m just kind of an organizer. I get everybody pointed in the right direction and all these coaches just work so hard for it. It’s pretty amazing to see what they’ve accomplished.”
Hamilton 0 7 0 7 — 14
Columbia Falls 10 6 3 7 — 26
CF — Auguste Emond 22 field goal, 7:59
CF — Ben Windauer 3 pass from Austin Green (Emond kick), 2:51
CF — Emond 29 field goal, 4:31
H — Tyler Chouinard 5 pass from Carson Rostad (Bridger Bauder kick), 2:14
CF — Emond 32 field goal, 0:29
CF — Emond 26 field goal, 2:11
H — Bauder 5 pass from Rostad (Bauder kick), 11:55
CF — Windauer 42 pass from Green (Emond kick), 6:41
First Downs 14 23
Total Yards 269 522
Rushes-Yards 25-37 61-369
Passing Yards 232 153
Comp-Att-Int 22-34-1 12-20-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-30 5-33
RUSHING — Hamilton, Bridger Bauder 14-36, Declan O’Brien 1-2, Carson Rostad 10-(-1). Columbia Falls, Colten McPhee 28-182, Austin Green 27-157, Logan Kolodejchuk 6-30.
PASSING — Hamilton, Carson Rostad 22-34-1-232. Columbia Falls, Austin Green 12-20-0-153.
RECEIVING — Hamilton, Camron Rothie 8-103, Tyler Chouinard 7-71, Tucker Jones 2-26, Tyler Barnes 2-16, Bridger Bauder 2-9, Mark Joyner 1-7. Columbia Falls, Ben Windauer 5-86, Logan Kolodejchuk 3-18, Colten McPhee 1-22, Logan Bechtel 1-12, Drew Morgan 1-8, Parker Greene 1-7.