HELENA — It’s the time of year to enjoy the moment, have fun and not over-think too much.
That’s how Helena High football coach Scott Evans approaches preparing his team for the next matchup in the Class AA state tournament.
The third-seeded Bengals face off with No. 2 Billings West at 7 p.m. on Friday at Daylis Stadium with a state championship appearance on the line.
“It’s a lot of mental reps right now, more than anything,” Evans said. “You are not doing anything new. What you got is what you got. We are not making a big physical change with guys, but you can get them better at their position.”
Helena (9-2) has won four games straight, after its 21-7 victory over Kalispell Glacier last week in Vigilante Stadium.
And Evans believes the Bengals have yet to play their best game.
“I think we are playing the best we can each week,” Evans said. “We are still improving, which is a good thing. It’s November and the semifinals, and we feel like we are improving every week. I like that thought process.”
The Bengals feel the team is ready for whatever comes its way, even though West (10-1) is a new opponent this season.
“I think we are going in with a good vibe,” cornerback Cooper Biegler said. “These last couple games we’ve played really good ball, offensively and defensively. We have to play our position how we are taught. Whenever we play as team, we play really well.”
The last time Helena faced West was in last season’s quarterfinals. The Bengals won that game on the way to a second-place showing in the tournament.
Evans was an assistant coach then, and has faced West before in previous years. From the similarity from that past and what he’s seen this season scouting the Golden Bears, he knows how to prepare the Bengals.
“We know West from prior years,” Evans said. "We are used to what they are doing. Everyone kind of runs the exact same stuff anymore. I’d like to say people are still reinventing the wheel, but the wheel still turns the same way.”
The Bengals must play at their peak to match up with the Golden Bears. The biggest concern will be the physicality of the game.
Helena and West have several common opponents, but one sticks out. Both lost to No. 1 Bozeman. West’s loss was by four points, compared to Helena’s loss by 20 points.
“They have some great athletes,” Evans said. “They have some legitimate college athletes and they have a huge O-line. We are going to stay away from the big creatures they have.”
Senior tight end Jacob Howell is looking forward the battle at the line of scrimmage, and thinks running the ball will be vital.
The Bengals like to run behind Grady Koenig, who averages 5.2 yards per rush and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns. The running game must be established for the rest of the offense to work.
“I think it will be a good test for us,” Howell said. “They run a little different defense than we’ve seen so far. Offensively, we have to control the line of scrimmage. Get off the ball. The defensive line, we just have to get a good push.”
Quarterback Ty McGurran is a dual-threat with an average of 81 rushing yards, but has also passes for 128 yards a game.
Other factors in the game include the long bus ride. Helena is on the road this week, after being at home. Players admit sometimes multiple hours on a bus can take away their focus and energy.
They know that and hope to counter the situation this week due to the magnitude of the game. A win here and they face Bozeman or No. 4 Kalispell Flathead for the state championship.
And if Flathead can upset Bozeman, a win by Helena can bring the state title game to Vigilante Stadium.
“We have to keep the team atmosphere together, and keep working together,” Evans said. “Our guys are buying more into each other, trusting each other more each week. And that goes down to our scout teams, too. They are giving our starters great looks to prepare.”