BILLINGS — Billings West coach Rob Stanton knew his football team had the potential to be one of the best in Class AA this fall. With electric talents at running back and wide receiver in DeMarcus Carr and Jesse Owens, the Golden Bears were poised to have a high-scoring offense.
Then Josh Erbacher stepped in and has helped take West to new heights. The junior quarterback has already thrown 10 touchdown passes this season, including five in the Bears’ 48-13 win over Missoula Big Sky in the season opener. West is averaging 41 points per game and, despite a 37-33 loss at undefeated Bozeman, looks like one of the top contenders in Class AA after last week’s 42-20 domination at Kalispell Flathead.
“He’s a really good leader, very competitive, which is probably the biggest character trait for a football player, especially a quarterback,” Stanton said of Erbacher, who won a quarterback battle during preseason practices.
Owens has been on the receiving end of four of Erbacher’s touchdown passes. Alex Bruns, who played quarterback last year, has caught three, and Connor Ryan two. Trevin Gradney, who is a standout defensive back with Division I potential, will also get more involved in the offense, according to Stanton.
“Those guys, they’re just fast, explosive guys,” the coach said. “We have some guys that once they get the ball in their hands, you kind of have to take notice. They will burn you. They’re just so good in space right now, which is a pleasure to have.”
Carr has been a rock out of the backfield, too, rushing for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Big Sky, 189 yards and a score against Bozeman, and 142 yards and four TDs against Flathead. The Braves entered last Friday’s game against West having won their first two games, but the Bears built a quick 21-0 lead and never looked back.
It was an impressive bounce-back win for West after the heartbreaking loss to Bozeman the week before. The Hawks rallied from a 33-24 deficit in the fourth quarter and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game.
“We had a good week of practice (leading up to the game against Flathead) and so far this week we’ve had a good week of practice. We knew with this group that they’re pretty motivated, they want to be very successful. But at the same flip side we know that we have to keep working to get better for the ultimate goal hopefully in November at some point,” Stanton said. “We have a pretty good Great Falls High team coming here that’s 3-0, so we have our work cut out for us one more time.”
The Bison enter Friday’s tilt against West as one of the biggest surprises in Class AA. Great Falls High has started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008, which was coincidentally the last time GFH made the playoffs. This 2018 season is just the second time in the past decade the Bison have won three games in a single season.
Quarterback Blake Thelen is out to a great start to the season, throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions in GFH’s three wins. He’s also added three rushing touchdowns.
“(Thelen) is really good, I think he’s an exceptional athlete,” Stanton said. “Coach (Mark) Samson, we knew that when he took over that he was going to develop a good program, and I think it’s starting to happen right now. They haven’t been in this situation for a while, so I’m sure they’re very excited. He’s going to have them well-coached and ready to go. (Kyle) Torgerson, the wide receiver, he’s also a very good athlete that they’ll get the ball to. They have some very good speed, as well. That could neutralize us a little bit with their speed, but I think their quarterback is their main dude. Not only can he throw it, but he’s dangerous when he runs it. Just an incredible athlete.”
Billings West and Great Falls High kick off in what might be the Class AA game of the week at 7 p.m. Friday at Daylis Stadium in Billings.