Montague senior Brandon Stine searches for running room while getting blocks during Friday’s pre-district loss to host Hemlock.
HEMLOCK — The Montague Wildcats overachieved all season, but Friday night they met their match in the fifth-ranked Hemlock Huskies.
The Huskies used big special-teams plays and some strong early offense to overpower Montague in a 45-20 victory that eliminated the Wildcats and ended their season at 8-2.
“Hemlock’ s a highly-rated team,” Montague coach Pat Collins said. “They showed it tonight.”
The Wildcats were forced to start freshman Jacob Buchberger at quarterback after a sprained foot kept senior signal-caller Brandon Moore from practicing most of the week. Collins said he played Moore at receiver because that’s the position he would require the fewest reps to be game-ready.
After a slow start, Buchberger performed admirably in Montague’s read-option attack. He ended up tallying 63 yards rushing on 17 carries and completed 12 of 26 passes for an additional 124 yards.
The freshman guided Montague’s offense fairly well, especially considering the stage and the defensive pressure put on him by the Huskies.
“Jacob did a good job for his first time in a game like that,” Collins said. “For a young guy to step in that role on this stage is pretty impressive.”
Moore’s foot kept him from being much of a factor. Until Montague’s final possession, Moore’s only offensive stat consisted of an 11-yard pass on a well-executed fake punt to keep a Wildcats’ drive going in the second quarter. He would later catch a touchdown pass after the game was decided.
Special-teams miscues cost the Wildcats, though. After getting on the board in the second quarter to pull within 14-7 and gaining some momentum, Montague immediately surrendered it when Tony Speckhard took the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown.
The Wildcats would later give up a big punt return that turned into another touchdown, and when a Buchberger’s pass was picked off on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Huskies had taken control.
“We struggled on special teams,” Collins said. “That’s something we usually like to hang our hat on. They turned it around on us and made some plays on special teams, which got us in a hole.”
The Hemlock triple-option attack bedeviled Montague early on as the Huskies moved the ball well. Montague’s defense was able to adjust, but by the time they did, Hemlock was off and running.
“It wasn’t anything new,” Collins said. “We just overran a couple of plays. We had guys in position, but the adrenaline was going and they just misread the speed.”
It was the final game for several Montague seniors, including Moore, Brandon Stine, Jacob Marsh and several others. Marsh caught a touchdown and Stine managed 55 yards on the ground in their final games.
The season served as vindication for Collins after he said the class faced several questions entering the year.
“They’re a great group of guys,” Collins said. “We enjoy every minute with them. They give 110 percent, and fight and claw just like every other senior. They overdid themselves this season. There was a lot of questions about what they’d be able to do.”
Montague concludes the season 8-2, with plenty to be proud of, but an unfortunate bad taste in its mouth thanks to a first-round playoff defeat.