Just 2 yards separated Helena and the end zone. Facing third and goal from the 3 with 19 seconds until halftime, the Bengals called timeout.

They planned to cut Bozeman’s 14-point lead in half. Just before the break, momentum hung in the balance.

Throughout the week, Hawks coaches warned of Helena’s tendency to throw out routes near the goal line. Senior cornerback Ryan Simpson remembered those discussions. So when Bengals quarterback Ty McGurran let the ball fly in his direction, Simpson stepped in front of the path of the ball.

Instead of Helena carrying out what it scripted, Simpson altered the narrative in the eventual 42-22 win Friday.

“I was ready for it,” Simpson said. “I knew it was coming, took the chance I had.”

Both players caught it, but Simpson ripped away the ball and any remaining hope of a Bengals comeback. He sprinted down the sideline in front of Helena’s bench, and as the Bengals caught up to him, he fended them off with physicality and nifty footwork. By the time he approached the end zone, no one was nearby, and he lifted the ball in the air with one hand while crossing the goal line.

“To me, that’s what broke the game open,” Hawks head coach Levi Wesche said. “It was pretty tight until then, it was close. ... That’s a 14-point swing.”

From then on, Bozeman (7-0) remained in command and the result was never in doubt. The Hawks sealed their seventh straight win and clinched a playoff spot by brushing aside Helena (5-2) with a variety of contributors. Bozeman wrapped up its regular season home slate undefeated and continued its unblemished journey.

Simpson scored on the interception and returned a punt to Helena’s 12-yard line, which set up his own score on a 3-yard pass from Kris Brown. William Leep contributed with two rushing touchdowns and one receiving while Brown also ran one in himself.

“Our team is extremely resilient,” Wesche said. “Our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. ... Really just proud of our seniors coming out and getting a big win on their senior night. That’s enormous.”

The two sides entered with one combined loss, and the matchup between Class AA powers provided intrigue as the playoff picture begins to take shape with three regular season games remaining.

Wesche noted the Bengals’ physicality and described Montana State commit Holden Sampson as one of the best offensive linemen in the state. Despite the Hawks’ perfect record, Wesche harped on his team’s need to improve each week. If they don’t, he said, the Hawks will be surpassed.

But Bozeman took care of business yet again.

“They all want to own their role, they all want to be successful, and they’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Wesche said, “and that’s what they continue to show.”

McCade O’Reilly, who became the starting running back due to an injury to Joe Olson, went down late in the first quarter, but the running game remained not just effective but explosive.

O’Reilly unofficially rushed for 21 yards on eight carries, and while he returned later at linebacker, didn’t take any more carries. In his absence, Leep finished with 82 yards on eight rushes while Brown racked up 80 yards on seven carries and Kenneth Eiden IV rushed four times for 17 yards.

“We were able to run the football even with our No. 3 and 4 back and that’s huge,” Wesche said.

At the start of the week, Bozeman’s seniors processed that Friday’s game could be the last time they play at Van Winkle Stadium. They were motivated to prepare properly and make the outing memorable. When the seniors walked hand in hand across the field together following the win, Simpson thought to himself how grateful he was for his teammates.

His mind slipped to realizing the Hawks will likely play again at home. But then Simpson remembered the mindset that led them to this position in the first place.

“We just don’t take it for granted even though we’re the top dog,” Simpson said, “because that means everyone wants us a little bit more.”

With less than two minutes remaining in the contest, Bozeman’s cheerleaders began chanting what Wesche won’t allow his players to think about.

Five claps divided each cycle the cheerleaders recited: “Un-de-feat-ed.”

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.