Great Falls' John Smith and Burke's Earl Brown brought 76 years of coaching experience and 1,384 career wins into Saturday's Class A state championship game.
Of course, the game would be decided on a play two kids said they've never practiced.
Great Falls' Xavier Holmes dished to Alstevis Squirewell for the go-ahead basket in the final minute, and the Red Devils weathered a frantic final minute to emerge with a 53-50 win against Burke (23-7) on Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.
Great Falls (25-2) won its ninth state championship in school history after losing the title game the past two seasons. This is the seventh state championship in 18 tries for the Red Devils under Smith.
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"This was a good, cohesive team," Smith said. "They played together all season, and there were no stars. We couldn't be happier."
Holmes, who led Great Falls with 18 points, set up the key play with the Red Devils trailing 50-49 in the final minute.
Holmes took two dribbles from the top of the key and spun toward the basket. Instead of shooting, however, he roped a pass to Squirewell for the easy bucket.
"It's the first time we've ever done that," Holmes said. "I knew they would double team me, and I told Stevo to be ready. When I saw No. 54 (Burke's Fadol Brown) step up, I just passed the ball."
Great Falls' Shaquille Simpson stole the ball on the next possession and split a pair of free throws. Burke, however, turned the ball over two more times in the final minute. Simpson hit one more free throw for the final margin, and Tyquan Scott's desperation three-pointer fell short as Great Falls players and cheerleaders rushed the floor.
"We knew it was going to be a classic," Brown said. "You're talking about 80 years of coaching experience."
True to form, Brown and Smith played the four-quarter chess match. The teams played even in the first period before Great Falls closed the quarter with a three-pointer from Simpson and a layup by Jemarcus Culp for a 16-11 lead.
Defense dominated the second quarter.
Great Falls shot just 1-of-13 from the field against Burke's half-court set. Burke, meanwhile, settled for too many three-point tries.
Culp scored another lay-in in the final minute for a two-point advantage at intermission. The Red Devils led despite scoring just five points in the period.
"Burke kept the game at a half-court tempo in the first half," Smith said. "The score tells you all you need to know."
Burke took control with a 10-2 run to start the second half, keyed by seven points from Brown, who matched Holmes with 18 points. Squirewell broke the spell with a pair of scores, but the Bulldogs maintained a seven-point lead with 2:46 left in the quarter before Smith opted for a timeout.
The next minute nearly did the Red Devils in. David Brown scored a layup, then scored again after a Great Falls turnover and a no-look feed from Solomon Dukes. The Bulldogs suddenly had a commanding 40-29 lead. Smith was forced to use another timeout.
The Red Devils answered this time behind three more points from Holmes, who then found Brandon Criscoe for a three-point play with 3.3 seconds left in the period. Great Falls trailed 40-35 heading into the fourth.
The Red Devils cut the lead to three on three separate occasions in the fourth, but Burke maintained a 48-44 lead with 2:10 remaining.
The Bulldogs, however, couldn't finish from the free-throw line. Burke hit just 2-of-7 from the line in the fourth and 7-of-18 for the game. Smith said afterward that "kept the door open."
Did it ever.
Great Falls' Ernest Talford drilled a three from the right corner to cut the lead to one. Simpson then poked the ball loose from Dukes on the ensuing possession and hit Criscoe on a full-court pass for a layup and a 49-48 lead.
"That two-play series made it possible for us to win the game," Smith said.
Burke briefly re-took the lead on a steal and layup by Dukes, which set up the Holmes-to-Squirewell connection and the fantastic finish.
"In a word, heart," Squirewell said. "We had heart, and a will to win. We came in with a mindset that we had to win this game. We wanted it a little more."
Squirewell, Shaquille Lamar and Tyrail Smith graduate for the Red Devils. Smith praised his seniors afterward.
"It never gets old when you get to work with a different set of kids each year," Smith said. "To win this game, it's a dream come true for our kids and especially our three seniors. They get to finish their career as state champions."
As for Smith? Asked if he plans to retire, the coach twirled his first-place medal for a second and laughed.
"I think that question has been answered," he said. "I think they'll have me back."
Great Falls 53, Burke 50
GREAT FALLS: Brandon Criscoe 5, Shaquille Lamar 3, Shaquille Simpson 7, Ernest Talford 7, Jemarcus Culp 4, Xavier Holmes 18, Alstevis Squirewell 9.
BURKE: Craig Williams 2, David Brown 5, Bakari Blunt 2, John Ross 10, Solomon Dukes 4, Evan Burden 2, Tyquan Scott 7, Fadol Brown 18.
3-POINTERS: Great Falls 3 (Talford 1, Simpson 1, Lamar 1), Burke 1 (Scott 1).
TEAM FOULS: Great Falls 12, Burke 16.
RECORDS: Great Falls (25-2), Burke (23-7)