MISSOULA — With its season on the line, Missoula Sentinel delivered a dominant playoff-ready performance Friday night.
The Spartans jumped on fourth-ranked Helena Capital early and smothered the Bruins' run-first offense in a 41-6 shellacking at Missoula County Stadium. Sentinel snapped a two-game skid and secured a Class AA playoff berth in improving to 5-4.
"It's probably been 30 years since we beat Capital," Spartans football coach Dane Oliver said. "You just keep chipping away and sticking with the process.
"We've been in this situation before with our backs against the wall and we got it done."
Capital had a heap of trouble stopping the Spartans. Junior quarterback Rylan Ortt ran for three touchdowns and threw for two and junior running back Elias DeWaters shredded the Bruins with his quickness, piling up 139 yards on 20 carries.
"It's senior night and we needed it and wanted it more than them and we came out and showed them what the Spartans are actually made of," said DeWaters, who made an electrifying 57-yard run in the fourth quarter. "We put together a full game finally and the scoreboard shows it. We played with energy and consistency tonight."
Sentinel piled up 273 yards rushing and 138 passing, but their defense may have been even better. Blaise Meriwether and Cameron Hegel each had a big interception in the first half when the outcome was still in doubt and the Bruins (6-4) totaled just 94 yards rushing and 104 passing.
"It was playoff football," Oliver said. "You talk about kids going through the process of improving every week and it's a rocky battle coaching 17-year-old boys. It creates a lot of soul-searching.
"There's nothing more rewarding for coaches than to have kids respond to tough coaching — challenge people and see them be resilient. I think a lot of times kids don't get credit these days for being resilient. I think they showed that tonight."
Place-kicker Spencer Peppenger was the spark plug early for the Spartans. He gave his team a 3-0 lead in the first frame with a 19-yard field goal and boomed a 43-yarder early in the second stanza.
Then Sentinel put together a game-defining 98-yard drive, overcoming a personal foul penalty en route to its first touchdown. Ortt did the honors on an 11-yard quarterback keeper and scored again on a 3-yard burst just before halftime to give the hosts a 20-0 advantage.
Sentinel squashed any comeback hopes for Capital on its first drive of the second half. Senior wide receiver Nick Germer snared a short pass from Ortt and scampered 62 yards for a touchdown. Peppenger added the point after and the route — the continuous clock rule kicked in with 8:34 left — was on.
The Spartans and Bruins will both be involved in the playoffs when they start next weekend.