Flathead’s Memorable Football Season Reaches Icy Ending

Columbia Falls, Eureka advance into football state semifinals

By Dillon Tabish
Flathead's Taylor Morton reacts after an incomplete pass near the goal line in the first half. Helena Capital beat Flathead 24-10 during the first-round playoff game at Legends Stadium on Nov. 3, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Defeat delivered an icy sting, but head coach Kyle Samson offered a warm reminder: Flathead’s football season had many memorable milestones that amounted to a collective success.

“Obviously it’s not the way we wanted it to end, but I told them how proud I was of them and how much I loved them,” Samson said. “We had a tremendous group of kids and coaches this year.”

Helena Capital ended Flathead’s exciting season on a cold night in Legends Stadium, rallying back to win 24-10 in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs on Nov. 3.

Capital (7-4) will play Helena (8-2) in the semifinals this weekend, while defending state champ Billings Senior (11-0) hosts Missoula Sentinel (6-4 overall). The winners will clash in the state title game on Nov. 17.

It was a tale of two halves for the Braves on Friday night. Hosting its first playoff football game since 2005, Flathead jumped ahead 10-7 at halftime after Blake Counts rushed in an 80-yard TD and Alex Coulter nailed a 35-yard field goal.

But the second half was a different story as Capital answered with a 37-yard field goal early in the third and scored back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth that busted the Braves’ chances.

Counts finished with 25 carries for 221 yards. Flathead quarterback Taylor Morton completed three of eight passes for 62 yards and two interceptions. He also had six carries for 24 yards. Jaden MacNeil had five rushes for 15 yards, and Jonathan Baker had three carries for 15 yards and added 45 yards receiving. Austin Demars had one catch for 17 yards.

The season had plenty of milestones worth remembering. Flathead was undefeated at home during the regular season and defeated Bozeman, Glacier and Helena for the first time in several years.

“This senior class really paved the way for a lot of kids that will be future Braves,” Samson said.

“I think they’ve really raised the bar for this program and brought back tradition and pride for the football program at Flathead.”

Samson said he was grateful for all the community and administrative support for the program, which helped make this a year worth remembering.

High School Football Roundup

Columbia Falls 48, Miles City 8

Quarterback Austin Green accounted for five touchdowns to propel the Wildcats past the Cowboys in the second round of the Class A state playoffs.

Columbia Falls (7-1 overall) travels to Sidney to play the Eagles (9-1) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, in the state semifinals. The winner will host the Class A state championship game. The Wildcats are trying to advance to the title game for the second year in a row. Last fall, Columbia Falls played in its first championship since 1970 and finished its best season in nearly 50 years with a 10-2 record. Dillon won the title over Columbia Falls 34-17.

Sidney eliminated defending state champ Dillon in the quarterfinal round, 38-22. On the other side of the bracket, Hamilton (9-1) will play Billings Central (9-1) in the semifinals on Saturday. Hamilton defeated Glendive 47-0, and Billings Central beat Frenchtown 45-10.

Against Miles City, Green turned in a remarkable performance. He rushed for TDs of two yards, 24 yards, one yard and 11 yards and connected with Ben Windauer on a five-yard TD.

The Columbia Falls defense limited the Cowboys to one score late in the fourth quarter.

“We don’t make a lot of mistakes. We take care of the ball, and defensively we’re really good,” Columbia Falls head coach Jaxon Schweikert said.

Eureka 36, Manhattan 0

Senior quarterback Garrett Graves rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another as the Lions steamrolled the Tigers in the second round of the Class B state playoffs.

Eureka (9-0) hosts Fairfield (10-0) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11 in the semifinal round. The winner advances to the state championship game. Fairfield defeated Huntley Project 36-21.

On the other side of the bracket, Missoula Loyola (8-3) is playing at Shelby (7-3) in the semifinals.

Eureka is looking to defend its state championship a year after defeating Loyola 31-28 to win its first title.

The Lions shined all both sides of the ball against Manhattan. Brenton Pluid helped lead the defense with two interceptions, including one in the end zone, and 6.5 tackles. Graves, on defense, also had two interceptions, including one in the end zone.

Graves finished with 230 yards passing and 77 rushing. Chet McCully led the team in rushing with 88 yards, while Hank Dunn led in receiving with 72 yards.

Eureka piled up 436 yards of offense, and the defense limited Manhattan to 109 yards.

“Our defense was absolutely phenomenal,” Eureka head coach Trevor Utter said.

“The ability to makes plays when you have to make them is the difference between winning and losing … Our defense stepped up and made stops when we needed to.”

Utter said Eureka will have its hands full this weekend against a fast Fairfield team.

“Their team speed is very, very good. We have lived on team speed all year, and I think we will meet our match with team speed this week,” Utter said. “It’s going to come down to execution and who makes plays when you get on the field. As far as a matchup goes, Fairfield matches up very well with us.”

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