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BELGRADE — On fourth down, 15 yards from the end zone, Gallatin’s coaches thought their team still had a chance to score. They were right.

Garrett Dahlke, starting at quarterback, lobbed a pass up to Michael Armstrong, who hauled it in for a touchdown. Within six minutes, the Raptors led. They scored on their first three possessions en route to a 42-0 Eastern AA win at Belgrade on Thursday evening.

“Feels awesome,” Dahlke said. “We came out firing. We got up on them early and kept our foot on the gas.”

Raptors head coach Hunter Chandler said Braeden Mikkelson, who was the starting QB previously, injured his hand in Gallatin’s last game. So while Mikkelson could still play at safety, the Raptors turned to Dahlke, who had started games at the end of last season at QB, to take over behind center.

“We feel very comfortable with Garrett back there obviously,” Chandler said. “He played really well tonight. I thought he stepped up really well. He’s got a nice, calm presence about him. He did a good job of commanding the offense and leading us on some drives.”

Dahlke, a junior, was informed last weekend he would be Gallatin’s signal caller. Noah Dahlke, his brother and a senior wide receiver, said he was proud of his sibling, adding he is “so smart about knowing where the defense is going to be.”

“I was really happy,” Noah Dahlke said. “I know he really, really wants to play quarterback. That’s what he loves. I was so happy to finally be catching some passes from him.”

Garrett Dahlke was 17 of 24 for 376 yards and five touchdowns, with those scores going to four different receivers. Noah Dahlke caught two of those TDs and finished with 163 yards on five receptions. Tyler Nansel caught two passes for 89 yards and a score as well.

“Obviously it was a bit different,” Garrett Dahlke said of being Gallatin's quarterback. “I knew what I was doing. I knew I could throw. Had played it before. But it was definitely different commanding the offense. I got out there, executed and threw the ball to the playmakers. They made me look good.”

The Raptors improved to 3-4 overall and secured their first conference victory of the year as they stand at 1-4 in Eastern AA play.

Gallatin won its first two games of the season to surpass its win total from its first season as a program in 2020. With the win over the Panthers, who the Raptors beat by one point a season ago, Gallatin snapped a four-game losing streak.

“We really need that,” Noah Dahlke said. “Especially to move on, get to the playoffs, we needed that win. Finally get a conference win. That’s all huge. That should really help us build momentum moving forward.”

The Panthers last week scored twice, the first time they recorded a touchdown in nearly a month. But Belgrade (0-7, 0-5) didn’t keep that success going against Gallatin.

Garrett Dahlke completed four of his first seven passes. After the Panthers’ opening drive stalled, the Raptors put together a nine-play possession that lasted just over two minutes.

Facing fourth down from Belgrade’s 37, the Raptors lined up for a play and got the first down after the Panthers committed a pre-snap penalty. On fourth down and goal from Belgrade’s 15, Garrett Dahlke completed his first touchdown pass of the night to Armstrong, giving the Raptors a lead they wouldn’t give up.

The Raptors began their next offensive possession at Belgrade’s 30. On fourth down and 16 from the 36-yard line, Noah Dahlke outran Belgrade’s secondary to get open. His sibling found him for another touchdown. The Raptors gained a 14-point advantage when Garrett Dahlke threw a pass to Nansel from 17 yards out on the two-point attempt after a penalty.

“I was excited about how some of our kids fought through to get some of those scores,” Chandler said. “I thought our defense played well tonight. I thought guys flied around. Definitely was not perfect, but I thought we played with good energy and had each other’s backs tonight.”

The Raptors traveled 30 yards in just over two minutes on their next drive, ending with a Bryce Mikkelson touchdown run.

After Gallatin punted for the first time, Braeden Mikkelson intercepted a deflected pass to give the Raptors the ball at their own 34-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing series, Garrett Dahlke threw a quick pass to Noah Dahlke, and he ran along the sideline all the way to the end zone for a 66-yard score and a 28-0 lead with under three minutes before halftime.

Belgrade had its best chance to score when Diego Casas, who led the Panthers with 103 yards on 18 rushes, ran 37 yards to Gallatin’s 30. But the Raptors forced a turnover on downs to end the threat.

In the shutout, the Raptors held the Panthers to 146 total yards on 46 plays.

“We made some big plays and got some turnovers,” Chandler said. “We’re stout against the run, and that’s kind of been a big focus for us so we knew coming into this week if we stopped the run we would have a pretty good chance.”

The Raptors weren’t done scoring before intermission, though. Garrett Dahlke threw a deep strike to Nansel, who finished the play with a 75-yard touchdown.

Following the score, the quarterback met his receiver, jumping and celebrating the 35-point lead. The Raptors, after facing a month of difficulty, were elated to be in control.

On the first possession of the second half, the Raptors marched 54 yards for another score, Garrett Dahlke’s final touchdown pass of the night.

Gallatin is scheduled to take on Bozeman next week, while Belgrade will play at Billings Skyview.

Noah Dahlke admitted the crosstown game will be significant. He recognized the Hawks are a skilled squad.

“We’ll be ready for next week,” Garrett Dahlke said.

The Raptors aren’t sure who the quarterback will be next week. But Garrett Dahlke said he’s ready no matter what.

“However they go,” he said, “we’ll be good.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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