Post Playoff Pondering

Three of the valley’s five football teams have seen their seasons end while the remaining two continue chasing championship berths

By Micah Drew
Wolfpack players take the field before the crosstown game at Legends Stadium on Oct. 31, 2014. Glacier beat Flathead 27-7. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

From the Ground Up 

Flathead High School coach Alex Cummings knows that a winless season isn’t what the Braves were hoping for during his first year in charge, but for him, it’s all about perspective. 

“Obviously it’s tough when you go 0-9 to see a lot of positives when you’re not around the program every day,” Cummings said. “We have a long-term vision in our brains and the biggest thing for me week to week was making kids understand that.”

Since the Braves came within a few yards of the state championship in 2018, the team has gone 2-24 over the last three seasons, including two without a win. 

“I knew full well going into this that it wasn’t going to be an overnight turnaround,” Cummings said. 

After his hiring in March, Cummings took the abbreviated offseason he had to restructure the coaching staff and determine how to approach the season with a young team. 

The Braves had 43 sophomores on the team, and played a lot of underclassmen, which Cummings said was tough during this season, but it will be a benefit as those kids age into leadership roles. 

One of the brightest spots on the field was senior defensive linebacker Chase Youso, whose 117 tackles led the state for the regular season.

“During the last game, knowing that it’s the last one for the seniors was emotional,” Cummings said. “I could really see us turning the corner by that point and even though we were pretty banged up after the season, when we asked guys to step up, they did.”

“I purposefully came in and took it down to the baseboards this season,” he continued. “I’m going to build everything all the way back up, the right way.”

Crosstown football on the new turf field at Legends Stadium on Sept. 22, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Young Hot Shots

After last year’s quarterfinal loss to Billings Central, Columbia Falls coach Jaxon Schweikert had final four hopes for his young team of Wildcats this year. Instead, a heart wrenching loss to Miles City in the playoffs knocked the team out of the tournament two rounds early. 

“In the playoff, unless you win it all you’re always disappointed at the end,” Schweikert said. “But this one stings a bit more than normal. We had it in our grasp and literally let it slip away.”

The Wildcats played what Schweikert called one of the most dominant games of the season — stats were high, defense was solid, and team morale was high — and yet “we were dominating the field, but we were losing.”

The game slipped out of the Wildcats’ hands as five lost fumbles gave the final advantage to Miles City. 

“We had so many kids play, so many young kids starting and they were all so coachable,” Schweikert said, adding that he thinks this was the youngest starting lineup he’s had in 25 years of coaching. 

That youth made the season highlight, a win over cross-valley rival Whitefish, all the sweeter. (Whitefish also lost its first-round game 24-13 to Frenchtown.) 

“We had the young hot shots and they were senior heavy and undefeated,” Schweikert said. “The kids just were lights out — they played so fast and so aggressive, and it’s not like Whitefish wasn’t playing an amazing game too. There’s so much on the line at that game and the entire school and entire town showed up for both teams.”

On the senior end of the team, the Wildcats will part ways with Isaiah Roth, who put up 770 rushing yards this season and was a force on special teams. Roth returned nine kickoffs and six punts for a combined 339 yards. 

“That kid is just lightning in a bottle,” Schweikert said. “He was return specialist of the year last year and was even better this season. I’m pretty sure every team held their breath on each punt knowing he was on the field.”

A Glacier Wolfpack football helmet. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Taking Revenge

The Glacier Wolfpack wasn’t about to let history repeat and let their quarterfinal matchup come down to overtime two years in a row. 

During the final minutes of the fourth quarter in Friday night’s matchup in Butte’s Naranche Stadium, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game with an extra point, but the Wolfpack stopped kicker Casey Kautzman’s attempt, to remain a point ahead.  

To cement the win, Glacier’s Jake Turner made a 50-yard run in the final two minutes of the game followed by a Jake Rendina two-point conversion to go up 35-26. 

Butte won the regular season matchup 20-17, and the two teams played another consistently competitive game each quarter this time around. After the Wolfpack defense held Butte to two field goals in the first quarter, Rendina scored on a five-yard run in the first play of the second quarter to put the Wolfpack up by one. 

The score ping-ponged from there – a 10-yard scramble into the Bulldogs endzone, a nine-yard rush by Rendina for another Wolfpack TD, a 21-yard pass for Glacier with a blocked PAT, then a 20-yard completion by Butte to tie the game in the third. 

Glacier will once again take on the undefeated Sentinel Spartans on Friday in Missoula, hoping to avenge an early season 29-21 loss. 

Landon Becker of the Polson Pirates runs the ball in a game against the Havre Blue Ponies in Polson on Oct. 8, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In Class B, Bigfork kept a championship dream alive after downing top-seeded Townsend 20-15 in the quarterfinals. Polson continues its Class A dominance after sailing past Billings Central 49-28 to advance to the semis.

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