By the time the rain let up at Legends Field, Kalispell was two hours into a new era – the era of the cross-town football rivalry.
Flathead High and Glacier High are now one game into what is clearly – for anyone who attended the Braves’ 49-13 win over the Wolfpack on Oct. 12 – an intense rivalry already.
“The community has been waiting for this forever,” said Glacier coach Grady Bennett.
The young Glacier Wolfpack squad played its best game of the year at a time when it was most visibly in the spotlight. Sophomore quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann proved he has the potential to be a star of the future, throwing for a career-high 257 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other hand, though, Flathead played like it had something to prove. On the Braves’ first play from scrimmage, running back Bryce Stacy streaked through the Wolfpack defense for a 65-yard touchdown run.
“We came out with a little chip on our shoulder,” said Brock Osweiler, the Braves’ all-state junior quarterback. “We wanted to make a statement. It’s a historic game.”
Legends Field was packed, with the two schools’ student sections strategically positioned on opposite sides of the field. School officials are making an effort to keep the rivalry friendly, if admitting it’s a rivalry at all.
“I think if they’re not trying to make it a rivalry, it’s doomed,” said Flathead senior Brad Hooley, who had his stuffed wolf, which was laden with arrows, confiscated.
Senior Andrew Helder, the Braves’ mascot who runs around on the sidelines wearing a huge orange Crush can – because “we crush the opponents” – said the schools should embrace the rivalry.
“A rivalry is healthy,” he said.
Some students were less enthusiastic.
“I don’t think we should have the rivalry,” said Glacier junior Brooke Meier.
Her two friends agreed, saying they don’t oppose the idea of fierce competition, but they lament the awkward position in which friends now find themselves. There is a sense of longing.
“It’s fun, it really is,” Meier’s friend Nicole Hall said while standing in the Wolfpack student section’s front row. “But I miss the orange and the black (of the Braves).”
“And some of my best friends are over there,” she added, gesturing toward the opposing student section.
Then there are the parents. Mark and Michelle Hensley, whose son is a drummer in Glacier’s marching band, view the two-school format with a wider lens, seeing the vast opportunities it provides.
“There’s twice as many opportunities for the band,” Mark said, “for the cheerleaders, the players, the grandparents. There are twice as many happy moms and dads. That’s the big thing.”
The Hensleys downplayed the significance of the competition itself and all of the rivalry hoopla that accompanies winning and losing.
“Thirty years from now,” Mark said, “they won’t remember the score. They’ll remember if they played and had fun. Only the diehards remember the score.”
The game was more exciting than the final score suggests. Glacier pieced together a variety of strong drives, but was only able to punch it into the end zone twice, with both touchdowns coming late in the fourth quarter. Smithwick-Hann, Osweiler’s backup last year at Flathead, showed that with a more experienced offensive line, next year’s game could give fans an even better quarterback showdown. At the very least, it’s clear both teams understand the significance of this rivalry.
“I think this is going to be one of the best rivalries in the state,” coach Bennett said.
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