BUTTE — Kalispell Glacier has gotten the hang of girls flag football pretty quickly.
The Wolfpack defeated their crosstown rival Kalispell Flathead, 28-13, in Thursday’s state title game to win back-to-back championships in the sports’ first two years offered.
“It feels amazing. The experience of doing that in any sport is something that lives with you for a lifetime. To be able to have that experience in a sport that’s brand new to girls, every day is something new and exciting and it’s pretty awesome,” Glacier head coach Mark Kessler said.
Glacier defeated St. Ignatius earlier in the day, 34-12, to advance to the title game.
Only five teams across the state competed in the second season of girls flag football, but the sport has been fully embraced at Glacier.
The Wolfpack boast a varsity roster with 32 girls, and a junior varsity team with 27 more.
“Our girls have come into it with a sense of enthusiasm since day one. The first signup had 44 girls and it has taken off,” Kessler said.
All five teams were at Naranche Stadium on Thursday for the postseason tournament.
St. Ignatius defeated Butte, 12-6, in the opening game to earn a spot against Glacier in the semifinal. Flathead took down Lockwood, 33-18, before falling short in a rematch of last year’s inaugural title game.
The 2023 season nearly doubled participation in the state as Lockwood and St. Ignatius joined the original three schools.
Flag football could certainly continue to grow in Montana, and the participation and success at Glacier is a prime example.
And the girls on the team are certainly glad they had the opportunity to play.
“I couldn’t be more happy. I would’ve been really sad if I graduated and then it became a thing, so I’m very happy I had the chance to play,” quarterback Kai Johnson said.
Johnson, a senior, made her final game count by throwing for three touchdowns in the victory.
All three of Johnson’s touchdown passes were caught by senior wide receiver Noah Fincher as the duo showed off their chemistry.
The Johnson to Fincher connection has been pivotal to Glacier’s two championships and will be missed as the Wolfpack look for a three-peat next season.
“Kai (Johnson) has a twin brother and has been throwing a football since she’s probably age five. Noah (Fincher) is just a phenomenal athlete, she’s different out there as a receiver. It’s been cool to watch and it’s going to be very hard to replace,” Kessler said.
The Wolfpack offense — which also picked up a rushing touchdown from junior Khirsten Terrell — was ultimately too much for Flathead to overcome.
The defense did its job as well, shutting out the Bravettes’ offense in the second half after taking a 15-13 lead into halftime.
Flathead quarterback Harlie Roth threw for two touchdowns in the loss, the first to Oaklie Breslin and the latter to Casiann Clemons.
With the second year of girls flag football in the books, the hope from everyone involved is that the sport continues to grow.
The Glacier team — and all five that competed in 2023 — have helped to lay the foundation, and now the rest of the state has the chance to follow.
“I think it’s very important to be a role model, especially starting off this program. I hope a lot of people will look up to what we’re doing and be inspired, and go out and do the same thing,” Johnson said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.