The Flathead Valley’s running tradition is well documented. Even wrestling is a sport that traces a long, local connection.
Football, the oldest sanctioned sport in Montana, has followed an up-and-down trajectory in this corner of the state, peaking in the 1950s with the great Flathead Braves teams that won four championships in nine years.
After years of relative dormancy across the valley, the sport is reverberating once again, more than ever. For the first time, the Flathead Valley will have five teams playing in the postseason.
In Class AA, the Glacier Wolfpack, which claimed Kalispell’s first state championship since 1970 a year ago, are tied for third in the standings and are advancing to the playoffs for the seventh season in a row. The Flathead Braves, a talented squad determined to regain their old-school dominance, are guaranteed a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.
In Class A, Whitefish is a powerhouse. The Bulldogs won the Northwestern A conference for the second year in a row and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. Columbia Falls also qualified for the postseason and squares off against Polson this weekend in the first round.
In Class B, reloaded Bigfork is rolling into the playoffs after a monster 49-7 win over Troy last week. The Vikings hit the road to Roundup for first-round action this week.
Here’s a breakdown of the playoff landscape and each team’s positioning:
It was easy to doubt Glacier’s prospects this fall. After all, several key players graduated from last year’s perfect championship squad, which was one of the most dominant teams in state history. And after the team started the season 0-2, it appeared that indeed Glacier was experiencing a rebuilding year.
But not this Wolfpack.
In Week Three, Glacier eked out a 7-3 win over Helena Capital and the team hasn’t slowed down since.
The team’s talent was on full display last Friday against Flathead. The Wolfpack trailed 13-7 at halftime before rallying back to win 41-26. Thomas Trefney powered in four touchdowns to lead Glacier to its seventh win in a row and seventh consecutive crosstown victory. Trefney finished with 32 carries for 112 yards. He now has a state-leading 1,184 rushing yards. He increased his scoring total to 17 touchdowns.
“If you’re going to go deep in the playoffs and defend your title, like we’re trying to do, this is the kind of game you need,” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said. “You don’t want that first half but you need to be able to handle that adversity and react to it and rise above it and take care of business.”
Glacier, which has the No. 2 ranked offense in the state, plays Missoula Big Sky this Friday night in the regular-season finale. Glacier is tied with Helena and Helena Capital at 7-2. If Helena, Capital and Glacier all win, the Wolfpack would earn the No. 5 playoff seed. If Helena loses and Capital and Glacier both win, Glacier would earn the No. 3 seed. The top four seeds will host a playoff game.
Flathead, which has the third-ranked offense in the state, is guaranteed its first playoff berth since 2011. The Braves are tied for seventh with this Friday’s opponent, Missoula Sentinel. Kickoff is 7 p.m. in Legends Stadium. Billings West is in sixth place at 6-3 and play Helena. If West loses and Flathead wins, the Braves could earn the No. 6 seed. A loss to Sentinel would put Flathead in the No. 8 seed.
Winners of seven straight, the Whitefish Bulldogs are rolling into the Class A playoffs as a top contender.
Whitefish (8-1 overall, 3-0 in conference) earned a first-round bye and will host the winner of Belgrade and Sidney, who play this weekend. Whitefish’s lone loss this season came against the reigning state champs, Dillon. The Beavers escaped with a late touchdown to beat Whitefish, 22-21, on Sept. 4.
Columbia Falls (4-3, 2-1) hosts conference foe Polson (3-5, 1-2) this Saturday at 1 p.m. in first-round action. The winner plays Havre the following week.
The Bigfork Vikings won three must-win games in a row to secure their seventh consecutive playoff berth.
Bigfork (5-3, 3-1) plays at Roundup (8-1, 4-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the opening round of the Class B playoffs.
Thompson Falls (5-4, 3-1), which won the Western 7B conference, hosts Colstrip on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.
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