With three kneel downs by Kash Fike inside the 10-yard line, the celebration that had been three months in the making began Friday night.
Belgrade made a late fourth quarter defensive stand en route to winning its first-ever game as a Class AA program. It’s was a much needed victory for a team that had been shut out five times this season and had not scored in their past four games.
“Oh gosh, it feels like we won a state championship or a conference championship,” Eric Kinnaman, who is in his 13th season at the helm of Belgrade, said. “The kids really needed this.”
Mason Jacobsen caught a pair of first half touchdown passes as the Panthers rallied for a 12-7 Eastern AA win against Billings Skyview. But it was a fumble recovery by the defense late in the fourth quarter that saved the day.
The Falcons, who have lost 19 consecutive games dating back to 2017, had driven inside the Belgrade 15 with less than six minutes remaining. But Brenner Bushfield had the ball jarred lose on an inside run, and the Panthers recovered the ball at their own 12.
Two plays later, Riley Burman ripped off a 39-yard run to move the ball to midfield. While Belgrade punted a short time later, the drive burned two minutes off the clock and Skyview took over at its own 20 with just 3:27 remaining.
Then Jaylen Baker threw four consecutive incomplete passes — one of them was dropped — and the Panthers sealed the victory two plays later on a first down run by Burman.
“For these kids to grind it out and get this win, it’s huge. It means a lot,” said Kinnaman. “It means a lot to me and it means a lot to them and the program, and it happened on senior night. There’s a lot of emotions going on right now. Nothing better right now.”
Skyview (0-8, 0-6 Eastern AA) received the opening kickoff and drove 60 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Baker capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Belgrade responded with a 12-play drive of its own — highlighted by a 32-yard reception by Tate Bowler — to march 79 yards for a score. Jacobsen scored on a 7-yard pass from Kash Fike, but the Panthers missed the PAT.
With senior kicker John Mears in street clothes due to an injury, the kicking duties were shared by several players. And, a botched kick actually led to Belgrade’s second touchdown.
Following Jacobsen’s score, sophomore Aidan Kulbeck didn’t quite get all of the ball the ensuing kickoff. But Austin Spangler recovered what essentially became on onside kick to set up the Panthers at the Skyview 40.
Five plays later, Jacobsen caught a short pass and then bulled over a defender for a 10-yard score.
“The kick was not intentional, but we have been practicing kicking toward the sideline like that just not that short,” said Kinnaman. “But ended up working out for us just perfect.”
Fike completed 7 of 17 passes for 147 yards and two scores, while Bowler and Brody Blossom each had a pair of catches for 65 and 53 yards, respectively.
Brady Mounts and Burman combined for 106 yards on the ground.
With that first victory out of the way, Belgrade (1-7, 1-5 Eastern AA) now turns to attention to the postseason. The Panthers will play Helena Capital (7-2), the No. 3 seed from the Western AA, in a first round game.
“We’ve got a little momentum. We’ve tasted that winning feeling, that taste that we’ve needed to fill all season long, so we have some momentum going in,” said Kinnaman. “I hope to make some noise in the playoffs.”
Belgrade 12, Billings Skyview 7
Skyview 7 0 0 0 - 7
Belgrade 6 6 0 0 - 12
BS - Jaylen Baker 3 run (Max Davis kick)
Bel - Mason Jacobsen 7 pass from Kash Fike (kick failed)
Bel - Jacobsen 10 pass from Fike (pass failed)