Kyle Samson noticed it right away when the Flathead Braves hit the practice field earlier in the week.
It was the football team’s first time together in nearly a week, an odd separation in the middle of the season. A series of cyber threats had forced the cancellation of school for three days and prohibited any school-related activities, home or away, for five days. This abrupt disruption followed a stretch of smoke-covered weeks that kept many athletic teams inside under limited activities. And then there was the delayed renovation of Kalispell’s football stadium, a procedure that forced Glacier to play a pair of home games in Columbia Falls and pushed Flathead down to Bigfork for a Friday night affair.
So yes, after weeks of smoky skies, prolonged construction and a frightening set of school threats, it was abundantly obvious last week when Samson, the head coach of the Braves, arrived at practice and found a collective of players who were overjoyed with plain ol’ practice.
“It was nice to get back to normal last week. We definitely have had some adversity,” Samson said. “At the same time, I thought our kids have handled everything well. It’s a true testament to our seniors. They did a great job of being great leaders. We had our best week of practice last week leading up to crosstown.”
The timing was right. Kalispell’s return to normalcy occurred the week of the biggest regular season football game of the year. Both Glacier and Flathead returned to practice the week of the rivalry game, and as fate would have it, the 11th edition of the crosstown showdown was the first varsity game on the new artificial turf in Legends Stadium.
Flathead snapped its crosstown losing streak dating back to 2008 with a 31-19 win over Glacier on Friday night. The victory was momentous for all of the reasons mentioned above but also because of its historic timing in Legends Stadium. Last summer crews tore up the classic grass field that dates back to the early 1900s and began installing artificial turf.
Last Friday marked the first true home game for both of Kalispell’s gridiron squads and added another exciting chapter to the history of the two teams.
Flathead’s Jaden MacNeil scored the game’s first touchdown, a 22-yard run at 10:18 left in the first quarter. Alex Coulter kicked the extra point.
One minute later, Mark Estes answered for Glacier, catching a pass from Evan Todd and scoring from 61 yards. Caden Harkins kicked the extra point.
Flathead quarterback Taylor Morton connected with Jon Baker for a 31-yard TD in the second quarter. Morton later found Baker for another score, a 59-yarder.
Morton finished nine of 12 for 253 yards and two interceptions. Baker finished with 60 yards rushing and 90 receiving.
Trae Vasquez scored a 29-yard TD for Flathead and Coulter kicked a 20-yard field goal.
Glacier running back Drew Turner had 22 carries for 172 yards and a TD. Estes finished with five catches for 141 yards and two carries for 34 yards. Brec Rademacher had three catches for 40 yards and Drew Deck had three catches for 19 yards.
Flathead running back Blake Counts had 24 carries for 115 yards. Anthony Jones had five catches for 150 yards. Austin Demars had two catches for 13 yards. On defense, Jaden MacNeil and Eric Reyna both had interceptions while Jackson Pepe and Jared Brenden both had picks for Glacier.
“Our kids came out and played with a lot of toughness and heart,” Samson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and the coaching staff. This group works hard every single day and they enjoy being out there with each other.”
Samson credited the support of the Flathead administration and fans for helping the team get through the difficult stretch this past month.
Both Glacier and Flathead are hoping to regain normalcy as the season enters the final stretch. Each team had a game canceled that won’t be made up.
Glacier (0-4) travels to Missoula this Friday to play Sentinel.
Flathead is celebrating its homecoming week. A parade will march down Main Street in Kalispell at 4 p.m. on Friday followed by the homecoming football game at 7 p.m. inside Legends Stadium. The Braves (2-2) host Bozeman (3-2).
“I really feel like this is a special group,” Samson said. “Confidence-wise, this group is doing great. We just want to keep it going.”