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'No one runs on us:' No. 1 Missoula Sentinel holds Helena Capital to 41 rushing yards in shutout

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Sentinel vs Capital Folo

Missoula Sentinel linebacker Shaun Liechty, right, tackles Helena Capital running back Luke Sullivan on Friday at Missoula County Stadium.

MISSOULA — Entering Friday's slate of games, No. 3 Helena Capital was one of the best rushing teams in Class AA, with league-best marks in total yards and touchdowns.

The top-ranked Missoula Sentinel Spartans have a competing motto: "No one runs on us," according to two-way star Zac Crews.

The Spartans' motto proved right.

They stayed perfect with a 32-0 shutout over the Bruins at Missoula County Stadium. The defending AA champs took their 17th win in a row and remain the team to beat in the state. Capital fell to 5-3 with one game left in the regular season.

Sentinel held Capital, which entered averaging 223.6 rushing yards per game and has a AA-best 20 rushing touchdowns, to 41 rushing yards on 21 attempts. The Bruins were held to just 77 yards of total offense on their 38 offensive plays. The Bruins lost a total of 53 yards off runs because of the push from the Sentinel defense that kept the ground game from getting anything going.

The Spartans have recorded three shutouts in a row and haven't allowed more than one score in a game — Helena High scored in a 27-6 Sentinel win in Helena — since Kalispell Glacier totaled 21 a month go on Sept. 17. 

"They were lights out," Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. "Once again they are playing unbelievable football. The assistant coaches are doing an amazing job with those guys and put us in good spots. ... We just talk about pursuit, takeaways and tackling. We just go back to our foundational principles and when they do that we are pretty good."

Safe to say Crews' confidence in his team's motto was well-placed too.

"They like to run the ball, they are a very physical team and credit to them," Crews said. "They were pounding the ball all night long, their O-line is great, their running backs are great, but our motto on this field is 'no one runs the ball on us.'"

The Bruins passing game wasn't able to do much better than their run game. Bruins quarterback Joey Michelotti went 5 for 13 for 32 yards with a long of 11 yards as the Spartans defense forced a few pass breakups between JJ Dolan, who also blocked a punt in the first quarter, and Drew Klumph. 

Crews had another all-around strong game with 53 rushing yards and 174 passing yards on an efficient 11-of-14 night. The Montana Griz defensive line commit also tossed a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to Easton Leadbetter to essentially ice the game in the fourth.

The Spartans run game, while the defense stifled the Bruins ground attack, was as strong as normal with contributions all around.

Adam Jones punched in three scores on 14 carries and 52 yards, while Kellen Curtiss ended as the team's top rusher with 104 yards including a convert on a fake punt near the end of the third quarter, which helped set up the Crews-to-Leadbetter connection. As a team the Spartans rushed for 222 yards and racked up 396 yards of offense.

As dominant as Friday's win over Capital felt, both Crews and Oliver noted the team can be better. Some turnover issues, such as a fumble on the Spartans' opening play from scrimmage, and other things can be cleaned up. For the game Sentinel lost three fumbles.

"We feel like our best game hasn't been played yet and that is a good thing heading into the playoffs," Crews said. " ... We just gotta limit turnovers. We got a lot of talent on our team and we believe we can be more dominant than we have been."

The Spartans (7-0) will wrap up the regular season at Butte (6-2) Thursday.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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