MISSOULA - It’s all how you react to adversity that makes you a champion.
After spotting Missoula Loyola a first-quarter score, senior quarterback Ryder Meyer completed his dream football season by throwing a touchdown pass to fellow senior Dawson Allen and rushing for two more Saturday afternoon to lead his Fairfield Eagles to a 30-13 victory over the Rams in the 46th MHSA Class B State Championship game at Rollin Field.
Allen would add a scoring run of his own in the third quarter, a 15-yard romp that gave the Eagles the lead for good.
The adversity was that early touchdown, a 13-yard toss from Loyola QB Nick Mitzel to Basil Coutinho that put the Eagles down seven. It was the second time in as many weeks the Eagles went down a score, only to bounce back with 30 consecutive points to put the exclamation point on a perfect 12-0 campaign.
“Loyola came out and did a great job, but we had to respond, and we did,” Eagles’ head coach Les Meyer said. “We have some seniors, we have some guys who have played here a little bit, and it was pretty important to them.
“They had to dig in, and they did. They had a couple of big plays to get some momentum, and that’s how it worked out.”
Meyer responded to the Loyola score with the first of his two eight-yard runs with 1:10 left in the half, but his try for a two-point pass to take the lead then and there was intercepted, and the two teams wrapped up the first 24 minutes with the Rams leading 7-6.
Allen’s 15-yard run in the third was the game-winner, but the Eagles needed to make sure. After all, the Rams have been known to score in a hurry, so with six minutes left in the fourth, Meyer hit Allen with a 26-yard pass in the front of the end zone.
Meyer’s second eight-yard romp from scrimmage with 1;55 left sealed the deal, despite Mitzel hitting Cooper Waters with a short pass in the final 30 seconds.
Once the final whistle blew and the Eagles celebration was going, we couldn’t tell whether the younger Meyer, who had been through so much excitement this year, starting with with trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in August to Saturday’s win, was laughing or crying.
“A little bit of both, I guess,” he answered. “I just can’t put how I’m feeling into words. It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life.
“(I’m) extremely blessed, I guess. Just having the people in my life that I do and to live in the community that I live in, and especially to be able to play on this team. It’s really something I can’t put into words. It’s just a Blessing from God, and I just love these guys so much; they played their rear ends off today. I’m so proud of them. Unbelievable.”
Meyer, Libien Becker, Derek Simmons and the remainder of the 12 Fairfield seniors were all freshmen in 2015 when the Eagles last won the title. This time, they get to enjoy the spoils while 13 current freshmen looked on.
Becker, who came to the United States during the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and would be adopted by the Becker family, called this win a “great opportunity.
“I knew we were going to get it after halftime,” Becker, the current Tribune Athlete of the Week, said. “We got back into the game, and I’m proud that we stepped up.”
His brother Payton, who couldn’t play part of the year due to an injured hip, joined Libien in the celebration.
“This is about as thrilling as it gets right here,” Payton said.
“I knew once our offense got clicking and we were playing really well on defense,” Simmons, a senior tight end, added. “Once we got that first touchdown, I felt that we were going to pull away.”
The victory marked the third state championship for Meyer, and the fourth of 10 for the school, also winning in 1982, 2011, and 2015 – when this year’s group of 12 seniors were freshmen. This was the 15th straight year they’ve reached the Class B playoffs.
Loyola lost just twice this season - both times to Fairfield - and finished 11-2.
Loyola mentor Todd Hughes wishes he could wind the clock back and start again.
“The kids played their tails off,” the fifth year Rams’ coach said. “We made a few mistakes in the first half that I think cost us a little bit, but Fairfield is just an outstanding football team.
“They do the little things right, and you just can’t make mIstakes against them.’
Loyola has been to the title game five times – taking back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 (over Malta and Baker, respectively), and losing to Malta in 2006 and Eureka in 2016.
The Sun Times would like to thank the Great Falls Tribune for allowing us to share this story with our readers.
Fairfield 0 6 8 16 – 30
Loyola 7 0 0 6 – 13
LOY-Basil Coutinho 13 pass from Nick Mitzel (Liam Lechner kick), 2:47
FF-Ryder Meyer 8 run (pass failed), 1:10
FF-Dawson Allen 15 run (Allen pass from Meyer), 9:02
FF-Allen 26 pass from Meyer (Meyer run), 6:00
FF-Meyer 8 run (Keeley Bake pass from Meyer), 1:55
LOY-Cooper Waters 5 pass from Mitzel (pass failed), :22.9