By Andrew Johnson

MONTAGUE – Football often comes down to inches, and that benefited the Montague defense in a 37-13 home victory over Kent City in the Division 6 district finals on Friday.

Montague stopped Kent City on four different fourth-and-short yardage attempts, helping the Wildcats avenge last year’s loss to Kent City in the first round of the playoffs.

“We tend to bend but not break,” said Montague coach Pat Collins about his defense. “Our defense does a good job of playing their assignment and backside football. I think our defense is the part that has to ride us to where we want to go, which is the state championship.”

Montague will host perennial power Ithaca in the Division 6 regional final at 1 p.m. next Saturday.

Montague Sebastian Archer steps back to make the pass. Photo/Leo Valdez

While the defense put on a show for Montague on Friday, it was the offense that showed its capabilities in the first quarter.

On its second drive, Montague drove 51 yards on nine plays before settling for a 28-yard field goal from David Rumsey, giving the Wildcats a 3-0 lead with 4:45 left in the first quarter.

Kent City then drove to the Montague 27-yard line before facing a fourth down and one yard to go.

The Montague defense stood tall, stopping Eagles running back Gio Weeks at the line of scrimmage with six seconds left in the first quarter.

Montague then scored in the final six seconds of the quarter when Bryce Stark broke a 73-yard touchdown run, leaving the Wildcats ahead 10-0 after one quarter.

Stark rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in the contest.

On the ensuing Kent City possession, quarterback John Meek looked poised for a big run before fumbling. Montague’s Joe Rupert recovered the ball and returned it to the Eagles 35-yard line.

Four plays later, Montague QB Sebastian Archer found Jacob Jancek for a 24-yard touchdown pass, giving Montague a 17-0 edge with 9:04 left before halftime.

The shutout quickly vanished when Weeks took the ensuing kickoff 87-yards for a touchdown, cutting the Eagle deficit to 17-7.

Montague’s No. 33 Bryce Stark looks to take the handoff from QB Sebastian Archer. Photo/Leo Valdez

Montague responded with 5:43 left in the second quarter when Archer scampered in from 10-yards out, giving the hosts a 24-7 lead.

The Montague defense turned the Eagles on downs at the Kent City 40 yard line with 3:29 remaining in the half

Stark scored on a 34-yard run With 6:14 left in the third quarter to give the Wildcats a 31-7 lead.

Kent City turned the ball over on downs on its next drive when the Montague defense again stood tall near midfield.

Two plays later, Montague punched in its final touchdown of the night when Archer found Jancek on a 43-yard touchdown pass.

“Jake is an athlete,” Archer said about his receiver. “His speed is 4.5 in 40 yards, which is hard not to throw the ball to. He can get by just about everyone and he’ll always catch it.”

The Montague defense again forced Kent City to turn the ball over on downs in the fourth quarter, before the Eagles punched in a Weeks rushing touchdown to end the scoring.

After the game, Archer mentioned that the 20-19 loss to Kent City last year helped motivate his team for Friday.

“It was awful,” said Archer about the 2016 loss. “It came down to not executing well in the fourth quarter. We had the lead all three quarters and it slipped away in the fourth. That was a chip on our shoulder from last year and we gave it our all tonight.”

Archer finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns on 8 of 10 passing while Jancek had 78 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions.