For 20 minutes during the Class B football championships in Florence, it seemed like the Bigfork Vikings would be able to hold their own against an undefeated opponent. The scoreboard was all zeros as the clocked ticked toward halftime.
Then the Falcons turned into a tidal wave that swamped the Vikings, full stop.
“We hung in there and did a good job of slowing things down and keeping it tight for about three-quarters of the first half,” said second year Bigfork coach Jim Benn. “But we just couldn’t keep them out of the end zone.”
The Falcons hit the Vikings in rapid succession starting just past the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. Quarterback Patrick Duchien rolled to his right and found teammate Caden Zaluski for a 22-yard touchdown. Four minutes later a reverse to Luke Maki made it 14-0, and barely two minutes after that, Duchien and Maki connected for a 24-yard TD.
The third quarter mirrored the second — three more touchdowns in quick succession before a stout Bigfork defense was able to fend off Florence in the fourth.
Benn knew what kind of game his team faced after a regular season game ended with Florence winning 62-26.
“They’re just such an explosive team,” Benn said. “They take such good advantage of every single opportunity and we kind of just ran out of gas.”
The Falcons defense held Bigfork to just 177 yards of offense and two for nine on third-down conversion attempts. Quarterback Patrick Wallen was seven-for-15 passing and threw two interceptions. George Bucklin led Bigfork with 70 rushing yards.
“Pat has improved more than any kid I’ve coached,” Benn said of the senior signal caller. “But George is really the spark of the team. We would not have been in the state championship without what he’s done.”
Benn came on board as the Vikings’ head coach last year after a decade coaching at schools around Montana. The Vikings, who went 3-6 in 2019, made the playoffs in Benn’s first year in charge.
“That was the expectation when I came on board, to continue building the program and honor the tradition it has,” Benn said. “It’s the kids that win games though. We set the table, but they’ve got to make the decision to respond.”
Bigfork’s 9-4 season saw some of its best games played at the end. Each post-season win was on the road against higher seeded opponents.
“This group of kids fought, scratched and clawed their way to the title game,” Benn said.
The penultimate game was another regular-season rematch as the Vikings traveled to Eureka to take on the Lions. After a close 14-13 loss in October, the teams were ready for another even matchup, and it didn’t disappoint, as Bigfork eked out a 7-3 win to earn their title berth.
Bigfork has made two other appearances in the Class B title game. In 1995 the Vikings were blanked by Frenchtown, but in 2010 Bigfork won the state championship over Fairfield, 24-21. Florence was also making its third appearance in a football title game, but the previous two in 1977 and 1980 were in Class C, with the 1977 game ending with the Falcons taking the 8-man crown.
Bigfork will graduate several talented seniors, including Bucklin and Levi Taylor, who racked up 889 rushing yards on offense this season, while making up part of a trio of seniors that each topped 100 total tackles.
The younger players don’t lack depth or talent, however, including an incoming freshman class that Benn is excited about. He firmly believes the standard of work and commitment set by the 2021 team is one the Vikings will continue meeting with equally impressive results.
“You never want to lose a game, but being second overall is good,” Benn said. “The kids have a lot of perspective on what happened that goes far beyond the field. They understand their place in Bigfork history.”
To see more photos from the Class B football championship, visit the gallery here.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.