Cowboys vs. Sidney - PLAYOFFS
Posted by Brian A. Reed (+6123) 9 years ago
I'll be posting more tonight in terms of individual records and benchmarks achieved by the Cowboys during their win over Glendive last week (as well as standards that the Cowboys can achieve over the remainder of the season), but in the meantime, here is a bit of a preview for the Cowboys' Senior Parents' Night:

The stakes in Friday's game are as simple as possible: the winner gets a playoff berth and the loser goes home for the 2013 season, making this a playoff game for the teams involved. Miles City was in an identical situation this time last year, needing a home victory in order to qualify for the postseason. The Cowboys weren't successful against the Hardin Bulldogs last season, falling 18-12 at Denton Field. The Cowboys have already avenged themselves against Hardin with a 40-20 victory earlier this year, but the similar circumstances around this game mean that Miles City shouldn't feel satisfied with that win alone. With the playoffs on the line, the home team will need to play with greater energy than they exerted against the Bulldogs (and should hopefully get a better boost from the crowd, which was out-cheered by the visiting team in the 2012 Senior Parents' Night game).

Like the 2012 Bulldogs, whose running attack led the way for the team's offense, the 2013 Eagles gain most of their yards on the ground, averaging 223 yards per contest. And as was the case for Hardin last year, when tailback Levi Butkay spearheaded the offense, Sidney features the Eastern `A' Conference's leading rusher in the form of Austin Kendall. Unlike the diminutive but slippery-fast (and surprisingly strong) Butkay, Kendall has size (5'10", 210 lbs) to go along with his speed. Fortunately for Miles City, Kendall isn't quite the back that Billings Central's man-among-boys Holden Ryan is, but he will give the Cowboys all they can handle. On the season, the senior has rushed for 1160 yards and 11 touchdowns (including a 94-yarder against Williston) on 175 carries. He has six 100-yard games this year and has been especially productive over Sidney's last two contests, rushing for 373 yards and seven TDs combined in wins over Glendive and Hardin.

The Eagles' second-leading rusher is Logan Thiel, a 6'0", 165-pound junior who has gained 326 yards on 54 carries. He's also a threat for an occasional reception out of the backfield, having gained 78 yards and a score on seven catches this season.

And while Sidney makes its living on the ground, the Eagles have passed the ball efficiently this year. Their quarterback, Gresh Jones (in addition to keeping alive the tradition of half of Richland County being named either "Gresh," "Melby," or "Gresh Melby," for that matter) has completed 42 of his 74 attempts for 574 yards, eight TDs and five interceptions and has the ability to surprise teams who lock in too much on Kendall. Jones has passed for over 100 yards three times this year - which is roughly two times more than Sidney quarterbacks do on a normal basis - and has completed more than half his passes in all but two games. His best game was a 4-TD / 0-Int effort in a 44-21 win over Lewistown, in which he completed 6 of 10 passes for 114 yards. Jones, a 5'8", 135-pound junior, is not a threat to run, having gained 31 yards on 43 carries this year.

Jones' primary targets are tight end Kory Halvorson (6'2", 210-lb junior) and wide receivers Caleb Benson (6'2", 185-lb senior) and Cody Johnson (5'10", 165-lb junior). Halvorson has a team-leading 11 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Benson has caught 10 passes for a team-high 169 yards and a score and Johnson has added eight catches for 143 yards and a TD. Johnson also handles the kicking duties and has converted 18-of-22 PAT attempts and both of his field goal tries this season, including a 41-yarder.

Defensively, the Eagles are led by Jones, who has a team-leading four interceptions and three fumble recoveries as a defensive back, and Dace Fisher, a 6'0", 195-lb defensive end, who leads the team with 75 total tackles and six sacks.

At one point in time, Sidney was the only current Eastern `A' team against which Miles City had a losing record during the modern era of Cowboy football (1978-Present). From 1978 through 1993, the Eagles were 10-8 against the Cowboys, including victories in the 1982 and 1993 state championship games. But since the 1994 season, Miles City has dominated the series by posting a 15-5 record against their rivals, including the last five contests. The Cowboys' current win streak against the Eagles is the longest such run for the Blue & Gold in the series.

Miles City and Sidney are two of the three winningest programs in Class A since the 1980 realignment, with the Cowboys posting a 239-88 record and the Eagles going 206-105 over that time (Dillon is 214-95 since 1980). Sidney holds an edge in titles, with nine - the last coming in 1993. Miles City has seven. No other Class A team has more than Dillon's five championships.

The winner of Friday's game will earn the Eastern `A' Conference's third seed and will advance to face Havre in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams played the Blue Ponies earlier this season. Sidney won its meeting with Havre, 14-7, in the third week of the season at Swanson Field. The Cowboys had tied the Blue Ponies, 6-6, in Havre one week earlier in a lightning-shortened contest.

Miles City and Sidney have had six common opponents this year. In addition to Havre, the Cowboys and Eagles have both played Livingston and the four other Eastern `A' teams (Billings Central, Glendive, Hardin, and Laurel). Both teams beat Livingston, although the Cowboys did so in considerably more impressive fashion (a 50-13 win compared to a 7-6 victory for Sidney). Miles City and Sidney both lost to Billings Central and Laurel and both beat Glendive and Hardin - all by similar margins (the Cowboys have a 109-96 scoring margin in divisional play, while the Eagles have a 104-86 ratio).

Where exists a decided difference between the teams' strength-of-schedule is when one compares the Cowboys' games against Powell (WY) and Belgrade against Sidney's contests against Williston (ND) and Lewistown. Whereas Powell (8-0) and Belgrade (6-2) are, respectively, the best team in Wyoming and the fourth-ranked Class A team in Montana, Williston (1-7) and Lewistown (1-6) are also-rans / cupcakes / weak sauce / insert-your-adjective-for-non-competitive-teams-here. The Cowboys were blanked, 53-0, by Powell, but were able to apply the lessons learned in that game in a convincing 41-28 victory over Belgrade a few weeks later. It is difficult to ascertain what, if anything, the Eagles were able to gain in their 28-6 win over Williston or their 44-21 victory against Lewistown.

I'm going to avoid making a prediction, other than I believe the Cowboys will win if they use all the weapons at their disposal to their full advantage and play the best game they've played this season. I think Sidney will fight hard to get back into the playoffs after a five-year hiatus (the longest of the Mike Gear / Roger Merritt era) and will give Miles City everything it can. The difference will be how the Cowboys respond. If Miles City takes the game for granted and puts in a mediocre level of effort - as was the case last year against Hardin for the players AND the crowd - the Miles City fans who don't leave the game early will watch the opponent celebrate on the Cowboys' home turf. Again.

But if the Cowboys remember what could have been last year and what still could be this season, I think Miles City could be in position for a deep playoff run. Here's hoping the players follow the example of their quarterback and play with every ounce of hustle and pride they can muster. Neither my sons nor I are ready to watch Ben Herzog's final game.

Much gratitude goes to the good people at for the Sidney stats.

[This message has been edited by Brian A. Reed (10/24/2013)]
Posted by Brian A. Reed (+6123) 9 years ago
As promised, here are some individual stat updates / records / benchmarks set over the last two games:

- In just 13 games over his two varsity seasons, junior wide receiver (and quarterback) Alec Haughian has become the most prolific pass-catcher in CCDHS history. Over his career, Haughian has caught 67 passes (14 more than any other Cowboy ever has) for 994 yards and nine touchdowns. His yardage total is also a CCDHS record, having surpassed Dustin Frize's 18-year-old record of 908 career receiving yards. Haughian's nine touchdowns rank seventh in team history and are just two off of the career mark set by Pat Bergman (1981-83) and matched by Frize (1994-95) and Dalton Reid (2010-11).

- Haughian has four career 100-yard receiving games, three of which have come this season - including the two highest reception and yardage totals in team history (13-180-1 vs. Laurel and 10-165-0 vs. Belgrade). Those two huge games have helped propel Haughian to 636 yards on 42 receptions this season, both of which are new CCDHS single-season records.

- With 107 yards against Billings Central and 138 more against Glendive, Haughian also has three 100-yard rushing games, all from the quarterback position when he has filled in for Ben Herzog when he's been out or limited by injury. In his five games behind center (three starts), Haughian has averaged 103.40 yards rushing per game, the second-best among Cowboy quarterbacks (just behind Shane Cooley's 104.43 ypg as a QB from 2009-10).

- Alec and his twin, Evan, both topped the 100-yard rushing plateau against the Red Devils last Friday, making them the first set of brothers to top 100 yards in the same game since fellow twins David and Mikel Stevenson ran for 173 and 149 yards, respectively, against Billings Central in 2003. Evan's 103 rushing yards marked the best performance of his career.

- Alec now has 610 career rushing yards, joining his cousin Brennan Haughian as the only Cowboy players to top 500 yards both rushing and receiving in a career. Brennan is the all-time leading rushing in CCDHS history, having rushed for 3344 yards and added 519 receiving yards on 53 receptions from 2006-08.

- Shiny New Goat-level tidbit: If Alec should move full-time to quarterback in 2014, he would put himself in outstanding position to become just the second Class A player to accumulate at least 1000 yards passing, 1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving in a career, joining Butte Central's Jonathan Richards, who passed for 1919, 1422, and 1136 yards passing, rushing, and receiving, respectively, from 2007-10.

- Ben Herzog has now passed for 881 yards on 66 completions in 130 attempts for eight touchdowns and six interceptions this season. Already the first Cowboy QB to have multiple 1000-yard passing seasons, Herzog needs 119 yards against Sidney to reach the plateau a third time. He has also rushed for 625 yards this year, putting him in reasonable position to reach 1000 yards on the ground this year, should the Cowboys qualify for the playoffs. If he accomplishes that feat, he would join a select handful of Class A quarterbacks who have both passed and rushed for at least 1000 yards in a single season.

- Herzog needs nine yards passing to top the 3000-yard plateau for his career, joining Billings Central's Benton Johnson (1992-94), Matt Garreffa (1996-98), Travis Blome (1999-2001), Cole Moller (2008-10), Colstrip's Matt Shahan (1999-2001), and Glendive's Ryan Buckley (1993-95) as Eastern 'A' quarterbacks to have passed for as many yards in their careers.
Posted by Kyle Stanton (+311) 9 years ago
Thank you for the stats Brian! Once again I really enjoyed them. Should be a great game tonight. Everyone come out and support the Cowboys and help them reach the palyoffs at their last home game under the lights!
Posted by Shu (+1798) 9 years ago
I saw in the Gazette that the Cowboys did win 26-14 over Sidney. PLAYOFF TIME!!! WOO-HOO! Looks like Herzog and Alec Haughian, in-particular, had a spectacular night.

Once again, impressive stats from Brian - pleasure to read as always...and I do have a couple questions for you:

You have mentioned in previous seasons that it tends to be a better setup when an Eastern A team finishes 3rd instead of 2nd in conference standings because of how the playoff bracket sets-up. Is that the case again this year? I believe the Gazette mentioned a couple days ago that the Eastern A 3rd placer goes on the road to Havre for their first game...if that is still the case, advantage Cowboys as it's a somewhat familiar opponent to them - though they only played them for one half of a game - still, they know them a little.

I do know that Belgrade clinched their division a couple weeks ago and the Cowboys beat them handily this year...that may not mean much in the grand scheme, but it caught my attention.

Another question for Brian; you had mentioned on another thread that a fella named David Zimmerman had published a "sour grapes" letter to the editor in the Star about their win over Glendive. I'm very curious as to what he said. Would you be able to cut-and-paste? The Star website doesn't show the letters to the editor. Just curious to see the tirade.

Meanwhile, congratulations, again, to the Cowboys! Best of luck in the playoffs.
Posted by Denise Selk (+1674) 9 years ago
Thank you again, B.A.R.! Brilliant, as usual.
Posted by Brian A. Reed (+6123) 9 years ago
Thank you, all. It's always gratifying to see when the tidbits I post are appreciated. I'll have plenty of them this week in preparation for the Cowboys' playoff game in Havre. I'll start a new thread for that, though.

Shu - to answer your question in regard to the playoff bracket, I offer this typically long-winded ( ) response:

This year, the best position for any team to be in is that enjoyed by the Billings Central Rams. By winning the Eastern 'A' Conference, they have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Homefield advantage rotates from season to season. The last year that the Eastern 'A' champion had the optimal path to the championship game was 2009. In 2010, the Northwestern 'A' champion (Columbia Falls) held the advantage (but were beaten by Miles City in their opener). Southwestern 'A' champion Dillon rode the advantage to a championship in 2011 (not like they needed it) and Central 'A' champion Livingston went 1-1 in the playoffs with it last year.

As the rotation was established years ago, it's impossible to predict which team will benefit the most from how the brackets are set up, but there is no longer any advantage that a team can earn by having a superior record. As it so happens, losing to a beatable Laurel team may have been a blessing in disguise for the Cowboys this year. As the second seed in the Eastern 'A,' Laurel gets a home game against the 2-6 Lewistown Golden Eagles, but then get to travel to top-ranked Dillon, which should beat Laurel by a minimum of three touchdowns on a bad day.

As the division's third seed, the Cowboys won't have a home game unless they reach the championship contest, but their road through the playoffs is potentially much less difficult than Laurel's, at least until the semifinal round.

The Cowboys open the playoffs on the road against Havre, which is 4-4 this season and have already played Miles City this year. It's difficult to determine what can be taken away from the teams' lightning-abbreviated 6-6 tie in the second game of the year, but it's fairly apparent that the Cowboys should be considered road favorites.

Havre's four wins this season came against teams with a combined record of 5-32. The Blue Ponies opened the season with only one win in their first five games - including the unofficial tie against the Cowboys - but finished "strong," by winning four of their last five contests. As much as any playoff team (including Lewistown) Havre benefited from a weak second half schedule, finishing the regular season against the Golden Eagles and the hapless Browning Indians (1-8). Havre didn't have anything that could be considered a signature win against a quality opponent.

In fact, it could be said Havre's biggest victory wasn't a win at all, but the tie against the Cowboys. The Blue Ponies beat Glendive (33-0), Livingston (41-22), Lewistown (25-21) and Browning (32-6), but were generally crushed by the better teams they faced, losing to Whitefish (45-27), Sidney (14-7), Belgrade (37-7) and Polson (52-20). It should be noted that the Cowboys beat Belgrade (41-28) and Sidney (26-14) in convincing victories.

But back to the brackets ... the winner between Miles City and Havre will advance to play Columbia Falls, the undefeated (8-0) champion of the Northwestern 'A' Conference. Like Havre, The third-ranked Wildcats have one of the best passing offenses in the state. But just like the Blue Ponies, they play in a weak division better known for one-and-done playoff runs than for state titles (excluding Frenchtown, which joined the conference in 2011 - two seasons after winning a state title as a member of the Southwestern 'A' Conference - no present NW 'A' team has won a championship since Whitefish in 1979 and has a combined 22-51 postseason record since then).

There's a chance that this year's NW 'A' champion is made of sterner stuff than those of past seasons. Maybe they're the real deal, but maybe the 29-39 record of their opponents and their three games against teams with winning records are more telling than their unblemished record (for comparison purposes, the Cowboys played five teams with winning records and had a much better strength-of-schedule (42-34)). But we'll cross that bridge if and when we get to it, of course.

Again, I'll have more Sidney review / Havre preview info later this week.

Regarding Mr. Zimmerman's letter to the editor, here is a photo of the original missive:

Posted by Merry DeAnda (+2066) 9 years ago
Brian, Thank you for your comments. I really enjoy reading them.

Posted by Brian A. Reed (+6123) 9 years ago
Now that the official stats from the Sidney game have been posted (thank you for updating the website so quickly, Miles City Star folks - it's appreciated), here are a few statistical nuggets:

- Alec Haughian's monster game (11-184-3 receiving, 10-113-0 rushing) is actually the second double-100 game in CCDHS history. Robert Nalewaja was the first Cowboy to accomplish the feat, rushing 18 times for exactly 100 yards (and two touchdowns) and catching five passes for exactly 100 yards in 42-6 victory over Belgrade in 2011.

- Only Kelly Strobel, who rushed for 312 yards against Glasgow in 1990, has ever bettered Haughian's 297 yards from scrimmage while wearing a Cowboys' uniform. Haughian is the only CCDHS player to have at least 10 receptions and 10 rushing attempts in the same game.

While I am certain that there are (many?) more such games, finding a comprehensive listing of them is nigh-impossible. Here is the list of double-100 games by Class A players that I have been able to find:

1996 - Tom Ziegler, Glendive vs. Sidney (26-111-1 rushing, 5-133-2 receiving).

2001 - Tuff Harris, Colstrip vs. Laurel (11-11-2 rushing, 2-132-2 receiving; he also had a 78-yard kickoff return for a TD).

2002 - Brandon Doane, Hardin vs. Laurel (9-155-1 rushing, 4-118-2 receiving).

2004 - Jeff Brokaw, Hardin vs. Lewistown (17-201-2 rushing, 3-146-2 receiving).

2007 - Adam Fine, Butte Central vs. Belgrade (14-147-1 rushing, 4-112-2 receiving).

2010 - Casey Schaub, Havre vs. Miles City (19-106-1 rushing, 4-133-1 receiving).

2011 - Robert Nalewaja, Miles City vs. Belgrade (18-100-2 rushing, 5-100-0 receiving).

2013 - Holden Ryan, Billings Central vs. Butte Central (16-108-1 rushing, 3-102-1 receiving).

- With 184 yards receiving, Haughian broke the team yardage record for the third time this season. He eclipsed the old record of 159 yards (set by Dustin Frize against Billings Central in 1995 and tied by Josh Ewalt against Sidney in 2006) with 165 yards against Belgrade and then shattered that mark with a team-record 13 catches for 180 yards against Laurel. Haughian now has four 100-yard receiving games this season and five for his career. No other Cowboy has ever posted more than three in a career.

- Haughian's three touchdown receptions ties the second-best single-game mark in team history. Devin Begger set the standard with four touchdown catches against Glendive in 2012. Pat Bergman (5-148-3 vs. Livingston in 1982), Frize (4-159-3 vs. BC in 1995), Ace Berry (4-153-3 vs. Polson in 2002, and Ewalt (4-159-3 vs. Sidney in 2006) are the only other Cowboys with three receiving TDs in a single game.

- By completing 15 of 24 passes for 259 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, Ben Herzog tied Jase Wagner (8-10-253-3-0 vs. Billings Central in 1995) for the second-most passing yards in a single game. The record is held by Bryan Larson, who was 6-7-268-2-0 against Laurel in 1994.

- Herzog has now passed for more than 200 yards four times in his career. Adam Sanchez (1999-00) and Jordan Bryant (2007-08) held the old record of three such games. Figuring in his 44 yards rushing, Herzog topped 300 yards of total offense for the fourth time in his career. No other Cowboy quarterback has ever done so more than once.

- Herzog's total of four touchdown passes is one off the single-game best of five set by Bryant against Frenchtown in 2008 and tied by Herzog against Glendive last season. Adam Sanchez also passed for four TDs against Billings Central in 1999 and Alec Haughian had four against Dickinson in 2012.

I'll post more single-season and career records later on. Enjoy these for now.

[This message has been edited by Brian A. Reed (10/28/2013)]
Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+18349) 9 years ago
Excellent stats, Brian. You do rock.

As a distant far away fan, I predict a resounding Cowboy victory over Havre. But, the dreaded Billings Central menace, looming on the horizon, as it did to Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) in the early 1950s, troubles me to no end.

Posted by Brian A. Reed (+6123) 9 years ago
Thanks, Gunnar. I definitely think the Cowboys have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with anyone. They've got more horses than Havre does, but Blue Pony Stadium is a tough place to play, especially when it's cold and snowy(I can't say that I trust their groundskeepers). If the Cowboys play the way they did against Sidney - which was a much more dominant effort than the relatively close final score might indicate - they should handle Havre. And Havre's reliance on the pass provides as close an approximation to Columbia Falls' offense as any team does.

As far as Billings Central goes ... remember that the Cowboys were trading punches fairly well with the Rams when Ben Herzog's ankle was hurt. With him healthy and able to run AND pass, the Cowboys are a MUCH better team than the one that was on the field in the second half against Billings Central. And who knows, Central could have a hell of a time with Hamilton (or Polson). The Rams haven't really faced a team with the passing game that the Broncs have (the closest would be Dillon, which defeated the Rams, 31-14). I don't think it's a given that Central advances to the chipper for a record-tying seventh straight season.