Flathead County High School Football Preview
The Best in the Valley Compete for Gridiron Glory in 2013
|Nate Thompson, a former standout at Columbia Falls and a current player at Montana Tech in Butte, helped establish a string of playoff appearances in recent years, including in 2010 when Columbia Falls won the conference. - File photo Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon|
Columbia Falls Returns Bolstered
here were plenty of bright spots last season for a team dominated by youth and guided by a new head coach. Friday nights in Columbia Falls should be even more dazzling this fall.
A bolstered group of experienced players is back this season. The Wildcats returned to the field recently to prepare for the opener against Lewistown at home on Aug. 31.
“They should be tough. We have almost everybody back,” head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “I think they’re set up in a great position.”
Excitement is boiling in C-Town as the local football team aims at building on last season’s impressive success. The returning talent includes senior quarterback Jared Trinastich and senior running back Zach Darling. Trinastich completed 56 percent of his passes — 158 of 282 — for 1,885 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. He averaged 209 yards per game. Darling rushed for 586 yards and 10 touchdowns, while also standing out on defense as an all-conference linebacker.
A few key players have graduated, like leading receivers Dyllon Parker and Colin King, but talented replacements are ready, like junior back Ty Morgan, senior back Josiah Osborne and senior receiver Alex Presnell. Morgan was seventh in the conference in scoring with 54 points. Osborne had 13 receptions for 344 yards and four TDs. Presnell made a name on defense, snagging three interceptions.
The Wildcats will try to unseat Polson as the king of Northwestern A. Columbia Falls hosts the Pirates in the final game of the season, which could have added importance if the league title is on the line.
The Pirates have dominated in recent years, especially the past two, in which Polson has gone 16-1 in the regular season. In 2012, the Pirates were bumped from the semifinals of the Class A playoffs by Beaverhead County.
Columbia Falls surprised some last season when it transitioned quickly under Schweikert. The Wildcats defeated rival Whitefish on the road for the team’s first conference win of the season, 14-13. They went on to advance to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, but first since 2010, when the team won the conference title. Anaconda dropped Columbia Falls in the first round, 32-14. The Wildcats finished 4-5 overall.
The schedule features an interesting twist. Whitefish travels to its rival on Sept. 27 for Columbia Falls’ homecoming game.
That’s guaranteed to be a battle that shouldn’t be missed.
Whitefish Ready to Grow as Underdogs
he Bulldogs have been on a bit of a rollercoaster the last few seasons, but a few skilled underclassmen and a strong senior class could provide successful stability in Whitefish this fall.
Quarterback Luke May returns for his sophomore year with an impressive rookie season under his belt. As a freshman a year ago, May stepped into the starting role and completed 143 of 234 passes for 2,020 yards and 19 touchdowns. He averaged 224 yards per game and also carried the ball 89 times for 383 yards and two TDs. It will be exciting to see what a year of growth has done for the athletic sophomore.
There’s also Sean Foley, a senior receiver and defensive back who caught 32 passes for 460 yards and three TDs last season.
“Our senior class is doing a great job of leading us,” head coach Chad Ross said. “We’re excited.”
The Bulldogs kick off the season Aug. 31 at home against Havre. The schedule features five home games, including two straight in the opening weeks.
Whitefish is trying to regain its swagger and return to the playoffs after missing out last season. The Bulldogs finished 3-6 overall and 1-3 in Northwestern A, earning fourth in the conference. The Bulldogs lost three games by only seven points last season, and each of those were against eventual playoff teams.
With a strong group of returners and skill-position players, Ross is encouraged by his team’s upside.
The true test will arrive Oct. 4, when Whitefish hosts the two-time reigning conference champs for its homecoming game. The Bulldogs also welcome Frenchtown, the conference’s No. 2 team last year, on Oct. 16 and Corvallis on Sept. 20.
Whitefish went 1-7 in 2010 and 5-3 in 2011.
Last season the Bulldogs’ offense was mighty potent, thanks to May’s surprising poise as the team’s signal caller. Whitefish led the conference in offensive output, although the team’s scoring ranked third, behind Polson and Frenchtown.
The defense struggled to keep points off the scoreboard, though. Whitefish ranked fourth out of five teams for points allowed, with 257, or 28 per game on average. Polson was first, allowing only 70 points all season. Frenchtown was second, 111 points, followed by Columbia Falls, 24.5 ppg.
The Bulldogs will have to maneuver around construction through September. The school’s renovation is ongoing and the new basketball court is complete but adjacent athletic facilities and locker rooms remain incomplete.
Braves Building with Strong Foundation
ith a solid group of senior linemen, the strength of the Braves will be up front in the trenches. Flathead is hoping to bounce back from a 1-9 season a year ago, and that will have to happen with a roster full of mostly fresh faces. Only four starters on defense and three on offense are back inside Legends Stadium, but head coach Russell McCarvel has a solid crop of young players eager to rebuild the Braves.
Among the returning veterans are linemen Axel Bladholm, Mitchell Stivers and Jordan Layne. Bladholm is one of the team’s defensive veterans, too, along with defensive ends Conner Mayberry and Tanner Diede and defensive back Colten Wiley.
“I think one of the things that’s exciting for us is to have so many senior linemen,” McCarvel said. “The thing about linemen is they are a quiet, hard-working group and they set the tone for your team. Not that they’re always quiet, but that’s where we’ll get our leadership.”
Flathead kicks off the season Aug. 30 on the road against Great Falls. The Braves’ first home game is the following week, Sept. 6, against Billings Skyview. Homecoming is Sept. 27 against Great Falls C.M. Russell, and the cross-town rivalry game against Glacier is the final week of the regular season, Nov. 1, inside Legends Stadium.
Flathead has struggled with consistency since 2008, when Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler last donned a Braves’ uniform. The team has gone 8-33 since, and last squeaked into the playoffs in 2011.
The rebuilding continues, although the program graduated a few noticeable standouts from last fall, including quarterback Matthew Tokarz.
“We talked about big picture goals, but then really you’re trying to focus on each practice and each game, one at a time,” McCarvel said.
Junior Easton Johnson, who spent most of last season playing in JV, is the Braves’ new varsity starting QB. Anthony Holm, another junior who spent most of last season in JV, is expected to see the bulk of Flathead’s carries at running back, followed by Colten Dopps, Aaron Siderius and Brad Larkins. Senior Dylan Thomas has experience at wide receiver and could see the most targets this fall. McCarvel is also expecting big things from junior receiver Alex Croymans.
On defense, senior Caleb McCracken will lead the linebackers. McCarvel has also been impressed with junior Will Clark. On the line, senior Adam Bradley and juniors Greg Kelly and Dominic Faith could provide strength, McCarvel said.
Rising to the Challenge
fter two straight seasons of dominating the Class AA landscape, Glacier is back having to prove itself all over again. The Wolfpack return only a handful of starters from last year’s 9-3 semifinal team, which advanced to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and earned the program’s first No. 1 seed in the Class AA playoffs.
The reloading process is underway. The Pack has returned to the practice field with barely a week until the uphill 2013 campaign launches. Glacier hosts Billings West in the season opener on Aug. 30. Along with facing the usual Western AA foes, the Wolfpack also hit the road to play reigning state champion Bozeman, Sept. 13, and state runner-up Butte, Sept. 27. Those two Eastern AA teams return the bulk of last year’s talent and are top contenders again this fall.
All said, head coach Grady Bennett still has confidence in his latest squad, and he’s excited to see the young men rise to the challenge.
“I feel good about where we could end up and how competitive we could be,” Bennett said. “The kids know the kind of reputation we have developed and the expectations we have.”
Bennett described this year’s team as similar to the 2011 squad, which featured a large class of juniors and developed into a state contender.
The offense is undergoing almost a complete makeover. Junior Brady McChesney is slated to take over at quarterback, replacing two-year starter Taylor Hulslander. The pressure won’t fall hard on McChesney, though, because of Glacier’s talented backfield. Senior Todd Ogden returns as one of the most versatile players in the state. Ogden is a powerful and agile running back. He’s also a returning first-team all-state inside linebacker, and provides Glacier a playmaker on both sides of the ball. There’s also senior Noah James, who was honorable mention all-state fullback in 2012, and junior Logan Jones, a first-team all-state return specialist.
Senior Evan Epperly is one of the returning leaders on defense. The speedy second-team all-state cornerback is expected to help out on offense, too, by lining up at wide receiver. Glacier also brings back a few talented linemen: second team all-state offensive tackle Zach Dennehy, second team all-state defensive tackle Brendan Windauer and honorable mention defensive end Austin Foucher.
Glacier’s schedule features two noteworthy changes this season. The Wolfpack travel to Missoula to play Sentinel, except their game will be played inside Washington Grizzly Stadium, where the University of Montana’s football team plays. Also, Kalispell’s two public schools will square off in the final week of the season for the first time. Glacier plays Flathead inside Legends Stadium on Nov. 1.
Young Leaders Take the Vikings' Helm
igfork has enjoyed a storybook rise in recent years, from a four-year winless streak to winning the program’s first state championship in 2010 and developing into a perennial Class B powerhouse.
Now, with a team of mostly young players stepping into replace several standout graduates, the Vikings are beginning a new chapter.
“There’s some kids who I’m looking to fill in who will be young, but they should be fun to watch,” head coach Todd Emslie said.
Bigfork lost seven starters on both offense and defense from last year’s 9-2 semifinal team. The Vikings fell one game shy of playing in the state championship, losing on the road to Malta, 23-13. The Mustangs fell to Missoula Loyola in the title game, 20-14.
The Vikings have a few experienced athletes who can lead the team back to the playoffs. Josh Sandry, an athletic junior, is stepping into the quarterback role, replacing Colter Trent. Sandry is also a second team all-conference defensive back. Senior Boyd Rieke is back as an all-conference running back and linebacker.
The linebacking core on defense gives Emslie particular confidence: seniors Rieke, Noe Gomez, Christian Ruiz and junior Vinny Quirk.
There’s also Riley Meyer, a senior lineman who provides noteworthy skill and leadership, Emslie said.
Emslie expects Bigfork to battle for the District 7-B title with Eureka. The Lions are an up-and-coming team that is well coached, he said.
The Vikings host Lincoln County on Oct. 18. The schedule also features tough games against Florence, Sept. 13, and Ronan, Sept. 20. The season opens Sept. at Choteau. Homecoming is Oct. 4 versus Troy.