COLUMBIA FALLS – In all sports at all levels, teams in the middle of the pack try to turn the proverbial “corner,” an undefined destination that presumably, once reached, vaults a team into the realm of the elite.
Columbia Falls believes it’s ready to make that move.
“We have abilities that we didn’t have before,” said Josh Wilson, a speedy junior running back. “We’re a different team than we’ve ever been.”
“I think this program is turning around,” he added. “Big time.”
After posting a series of .500 or sub .500 records the past several years, the Wildcats have opened up this season 3-1, including a huge victory over Stevensville, 32-13. Coach John Thompson said it was the first time Columbia Falls has beaten Stevensville in 11 years. Thompson was quick to point out that the win, while significant, is only one part of a long process to become a top team.
“There are no miracles,” he said, “no overnight successes. It’s a long road.”
What the Stevensville game did do, said senior captain Michael Hader, was show the team what it’s capable of accomplishing. The ‘Cats can play with the best.
“We are at that level now,” Hader said. “It’s always been a confidence thing.”
While Hader said the team wants to be a playoff team, Wilson takes the goal a step further.
“I think we can be right up there with the top three teams in the state,” Wilson said.
For Thompson, the Stevensville game proved that his speedy team can buckle down and play a physical game if necessary. Against a team like Stevensville, with a line that averages over 220 pounds and plays tough, buckling down is necessary for both self-defense and success.
“(Sometimes) it’s hard to tell how physical we are,” Thompson said. “We were that game.”
All three victories have come on the road. The Wildcats’ sole home game was a 40-14 loss to Butte Central. Both Wilson and Thompson said the final score was not indicative of how Columbia Falls played for most of the game, the key word being “most.” Thompson acknowledged Butte Central is a good team, but he felt his players quit playing hard late in the game once they were a couple of touchdowns behind. Early in the second half, Columbia Falls trailed only 20-14.
“We let that game get away from us,” Thompson said.
Thompson was pleased with how the team responded to the loss, though. The ‘Cats bounced back by dominating Stevensville and Ronan, 55-16.
“It’s how you respond to adversity,” Thompson said. “That’s been a problem here in this program for a while – not responding to adversity.”
The team is fast and talented this year with a versatile running attack. Wilson and Scott Palmer give the Wildcats’ shiftiness, while Hader and Steven Brennan provide a power game. All four running backs have scored touchdowns this season. In the Stevensville game, the ‘Cats ran for 259 yards led by Wilson’s 132 yards and two touchdowns. Against Ronan, Wilson ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. The Wildcats lead the conference in rushing at 258 yards per game.
But Thompson knows talent only goes so far.
“Potential is nothing without the right kind of attitude and effort,” he said.
Thompson said his players’ dedication, not only this year but the past couple years, is indicative of their desire to become an elite team. Columbia Falls, he feels, deserves to make it to the next level.
“A lot of people have been waiting for that,” he said.
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