EUREKA — Garrett Graves wasn't coming out of the game unless he had to be scraped off the field.
The Eureka senior quarterback got his ankle twisted up on his first rush attempt of the game Saturday in Eureka. He didn’t know whether it was a high ankle sprain or a fracture.
What the Montana Griz commit did know was that he wasn’t going to be on the sideline during his final high school contest and the first state-title game in Eureka since 1990.
“State championship game my senior year, I’m not coming out unless I can’t walk,” Graves said as he was all smiles after the game.
He hobbled along on offense and defense, helping Eureka (11-0) repeat as Class B state champions with a 47-7 win over Shelby (8-4), which was in its first championship game since 1988. Multiple players who sat out or played smaller roles in last year’s title game stepped up for the Lions on the big stage.
Eureka closed out a dominant postseason on defense by intercepting four passes and turning them into 21 points. The Lions allowed just 19 total points in four playoff games.
“We have a group of studs,” Graves said. “You can’t put it in too many other words besides these guys are dominant and the best team in the state by far. I don’t think there’s a question.”
The Lions are the first repeat champions since Missoula Loyola won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
They upped their winning streak to 20 games. They’ve won every game by at least 23 points since last year’s 31-28 title-game win over Loyola on a Hail Mary.
“I hope it means that we have a winning tradition established, that we can continue to be in the conversation every year,” Eureka head coach Trevor Utter said. “That’s what you dream of is being a program rather than a one-year wonder.”
Graves threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 8-of-26 passing. He ran just seven times — mainly sneaks and dives — for 23 yards and one touchdown as he was relegated to staying in the pocket as much as possible.
He couldn’t sprint fast after the injury, which took designed runs, bootlegs and read-options almost entirely out of the playbook.
“Our team has a heck of a lot of grit,” Utter said. “We rely a lot on Garrett’s legs, and we didn’t have them today. Everyone had to step up and do their job a little bit better, and they did. It was an amazing performance by everyone.”
Eureka sophomore Chet McCully shouldered the load in the running game, rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. He had touchdown runs of 8, 2 and 1 yards, and the latter two turned a 19-7 halftime lead into a 34-7 advantage with 10:50 to play. His last score was set up by a Bryant Little interception that Little returned to inside the 1-yard line.
McCully eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season during his final touch of the game. In last year’s title game, he played on special teams but not on offense since then-senior Cannan Smith dominated snaps in the backfield.
“Playing with all my brothers like that today, there’s nothing that tops that,” McCully said. “I had a blast today.”
Lions senior Brenton Pluid caught two passes for 56 yards and one touchdown while dealing with double teams. His lone score came on a 31-yard catch and run on third-and-20 that put Eureka up 7-0 to cap the first drive of the game.
Pluid missed last year’s title game because he broke his collarbone during pregame of the semifinal game.
“It was a good game last year, but it was hard to watch,” Pluid said. “I was pretty bummed.
“It was amazing to be back today. I feel like I left everything out there. I have no regrets.”
Eureka senior Jonathan Schmidt had the individual highlight of the day with a one-handed interception. Primarily a defender until he added a receiver role this season, he caught his first career touchdown pass on his final offensive play, putting Eureka up 41-7 with 5:31 to play. Graves said there was an emphasis on trying to get Schmidt the ball that drive.
“This is the best feeling ever coming back senior year and winning again,” Schmidt said. “It’s the best way possible to end it.”
Schmidt’s interception near midfield led to a Graves 1-yard touchdown run that put Eureka up 19-7 with 16.2 seconds left in the first half. That’s when Shelby head coach Mike White felt things started to unravel for his Coyotes.
“That was the pivotal point,” White said. “Right before the half we’re marching, we had that turnover and they scored. That was a pretty big turning point.”
Utter wasn’t comfortable with just a 12-point halftime lead and a limping quarterback. Graves came through on defense with an interception on Shelby’s first drive of the second half. The Lions turned it into a touchdown that put them up 27-7.
Eureka freshman Gunnar Smith tacked on a 42-yard touchdown run in the closing seconds.
Shelby’s late-game playoff magic was a vanishing act against Eureka. The Coyotes fell too far behind early and couldn’t pull off a fourth-quarter comeback like they did against then-undefeated Whitehall in the quarterfinals, 16-13, and Loyola in the semifinals, 28-27.
Coyotes quarterback Aaron White completed 16 of 34 passes for 131 yards and was picked off four times. He was playing with a torn rotator cuff — on his throwing arm — which he suffered in the quarterfinals.
Shelby’s only score came on a short field. They drove 35 yards after forcing Graves to fumble in the pocket. Zach Torgerson scored on a 4-yard run to get Shelby within 13-7 midway through the second quarter. Graves’ fumble came on a drive set up by Hank Dunn’s interception, the first of the game for Eureka.
The Coyotes dropped at least three interceptions in the first half. They intercepted Graves once but fumbled the ball back to Eureka on the return. They had another chance to recover a fumble inside the 5-yard line on the Lions’ first drive of the second half, but Eureka recovered and turned it into a touchdown.
“They made the best of their breaks,” Mike White said. “We didn’t. We had chances to have turnovers, too. We dropped a couple picks and had a couple fumbles on the ground we didn’t get to. They jumped on them. We didn’t. Ballgame.”