When the Wolfpack football team meets for practice on Mondays, head coach Grady Bennett asks his team the same question: “Who are we playing?”
The answer is often the same: “We don’t care.” But it may be a little less convincing this week for one important reason.
On Oct. 16, the electric atmosphere at Legends will be tangible for every spectator that social-distancing requirements allow inside. Cheers and jeers, taunts and howls will punctuate the air for blocks in every direction.
Once again, it’s time for Kalispell’s biggest rivalry game.
On paper, it looks like it should be a blowout.
The Glacier Wolfpack is ranked No. 3 in the Western AA conference, and holds a 4-1 record after suffering its first defeat of the season last week to an undefeated Helena High, 34-14.
The Flathead Braves, on the other hand, are having another rough start to the season, going 0-5 for the second year in a row. Twice they have been shut out.
That doesn’t mean Glacier will be resting on its laurels when the teams take the field on Friday night.
“It’s crosstown, and anything can happen,” Bennett said. “It doesn’t matter what record we’re up against, we have to treat this game differently.”
Since Glacier High School opened in 2007, the two schools have met on the gridiron 13 times. Glacier holds the overall lead in the series 9-4, with the Braves’ last wins coming back to back in 2017 and 2018.
Last year, the game ended in a shutout for the first time, as the Wolfpack rolled to a 42-0 win in Legends Stadium.
In a normal year, the annual crosstown football game becomes one of the biggest sporting events in the Flathead Valley. Well over 3,000 spectators cram into the stadium and crowd the sidelines to watch some of Kalispell’s brawniest high schoolers go helmet to helmet.
This year, emotions will still run high and and bragging rights will still be on the line, but the crowds might be muted, as the county is still under COVID-19 restrictions that limit the number of spectators allowed to attend a sporting event and how close together they can be.
That’s a problem for fans and administrators to figure out, however — the coaches and players are focused on how to move the football another yard down the field.
“We’re going to make sure we can be as competitive as possible this year,” Flathead coach Matt Upham said. “It’s business as usual, and we’re hoping for a momentum swing to make it a football game for four quarters.”
The Braves have struggled week to week with a fluctuating roster, as athletes have come down with the novel coronavirus or been considered a close contact and required to quarantine. Flathead High School recorded the most positive cases of COVID-19 among students and staff in the state in September.
“We’ve had a lot of young guys playing varsity for the first time, and our depth charts have changed week to week,” Upham said, adding that most of the team is back this week. “If our guys play hard every snap, across all levels, we’ll make it competitive.”
Senior quarterback Charlie Hinchey will be at the helm for the Braves. Last week Hinchey threw for 132 yards against Butte and rushed for a touchdown. He will need to capitalize on working his way through the Glacier defensive line, while Flathead’s own defense is preparing to face one of the best running backs they’ve seen all year.
Glacier junior Jake Rendina is one of the top offensive players in the state, having broken the Class AA record for rushing touchdowns when he hustled the ball into the end zone seven times during a win over Missoula Hellgate. He’s managed 20 TDs in just five games this year. Rendina is such a force that he can cover some mistakes made by the Wolfpack.
“The offensive line gets a lot of credit, they know they’re quite undersized,” Bennett said. “When we ask them to fight, they’re fighting, scratching, clawing like crazy to finish a block and go until the whistle.”
A win for Glacier this week will cement their spot in the state playoffs. Flathead will be left out of the state tournament this year, but a crosstown win would go a long way to lifting the team’s spirits on the season.
Rivalry games are known for bringing out the best in each team, and Kalispell crosstown has been a stomping ground for snapping losing streaks by both teams in previous seasons.
“Crosstown just has this different atmosphere,” Bennett said. “Being under the lights, it’s electric, there’s a history there — I just tell my boys to remember to soak it up.”
The crosstown game will kick off a 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16 at Legends Stadium. The game will also be broadcast on the NFHS network at https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/events/glacier-high-school-kalispell-mt/gam4a25735804v