PHILIPSBURG – The NFL kicks off Thursday night in Philadelphia. But Friday night in Philipsburg, it will seem like the postseason in Montana’s Class C 8-Man Football is already upon us.
That’s when the #3 ranked Charlo Vikings (2-0) come to town to play the #1 Flint Creek Titans (2-0) in a Week 3 matchup of teams in the midst of very different schedules. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at George Mungas Field at Granite High School.
The Vikings come in after wins against Plains (42-6) on the road and Arlee (36-16) at home, two teams that were part of the postseason in 2017.
The Titans have walked over opponents early in the first two weeks, beating Clark Fork (50-16) and Troy (50-6) in back to back road games. Friday’s game with Charlo will be their home opener.
And what an opener it will be.
“I’m glad it’s a little earlier this year,” said Charlo Head Coach Mike Krahn, “I think it’s just a little tougher to be a in a game like that right before the playoffs and have a kid or two get dinged up and have them try to recover.
“I think this game will be similar to last season’s. The winner will likely get the #1 seed going into the playoffs and home games as long as they stay in it. The #2 team heads to the east in the bracket and is on the road. And we all saw how important the home field advantage was last year.”
For Flint Creek’s Mike Cutler, he said he’d prefer the game “… later in the year …” but declined to comment further.
Last season the two teams met in Week 8 at Charlo, with the Titans coming away with a 46-28 win, the Western Conference crown and a home field advantage all the way through the playoffs that led to the title.
For all the scoring, stats and inside info anyone could provide, you only need to know one name when it comes to the Vikings – Landers Smith.
Had it not been for Flint Creek’s Colton Grange and the success of the Titans in 2017, Smith may very well have ended up winning at least one of the postseason awards for offense or defense. In 2017 the then-junior averaged 11.70 yards per rush, 13.97 yards per completion and even averaged 18.57 yards on the seven passes he caught. He accounted for 53.5% of his teams total yardage as they finished 9-2 in a quarterfinal loss to the Forsyth Dogies, who Flint Creek beat in the championship game.
“We try to spread the ball around as much as we can,” said Krahn. “But even though we do that, it just seems like some games he (Smith) gets his hands on the ball and kind of takes over.”
Smith was so revered by the Titan players last year that they named him their “Most Worthy Opponent” of 2017.
“He’s the kind of kid who would knock your block off on a play, but not stand over you and gloat about it,” said Cutler.
Smith has already assumed the leadership mantle again in 2018, leading his team in rushing (384 yards, 10.11 avg) and passing (13-for-24, 128 yards, 5 TDs). The latter stat is weighted by a 55-yard scoring play.
Gone from last year’s squad are Tyson Pettigrew and Toby Odom, two players who accounted for 1,100 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving. Stepping into their shoes are senior Garret Vaughan and junior Isaiah Allik. Krahn describes Vaughan as a “scat back” who averages 5.27 yards per carry on 11 attempts. Allik is more of fullback, according to his coach, averaging 4.73 yards on 11 rushes.
While Smith primarily went to Petticrew out of the backfield last year, 2017 finds the senior QB spreading the ball evenly between Vaughan, Allik and junior Bridger Foust. All three have caught four passes apiece. But Foust will be inactive as he suffered a broken arm in last week’s win over Arlee.
When looking at how his Titans will address the Vikings on defense, Cutler made it sound like it will pretty much be business as usual.
“We’ll try and slow him (Smith) down, but we’ll pretty much be playing assignment football,” Cutler commented. “J.C. (Holland, Line Coach) stresses that all the time. He tells them every day, ‘Do your job and take care of your assignment.’
“We’ll try to limit his big plays, wear him down and know where he is. But in the end everyone has to do their job.”
Flint Creek Titans
Cutler said before the season that this team, the 2018 edition, hadn’t won a championship; that they hadn’t even won a game yet. From a coaching and motivational standpoint, that makes perfect sense. But to look at this year’s squad and see some obvious carry-overs from the championship campaign would be easy to do for fans and the media.
The Titans have reeled off two convincing wins. The first against Clark Fork saw a disciplined Flint Creek team manhandle the Mountain Cats in Week 1 and turn the Week 2 matchup at Troy into a JV outing early in the second quarter.
They have yet to be truly tested. Friday night should provide just that.
Kade Cutler steps in under center for Flint Creek, replacing the graduated Grange. In two games the sophomore has played well, going 9-for-12 for 138 yards and three touchdowns. He had limited rushing attempts in last week’s win over the Trojans, but showed he can run the ball when necessary by getting 66 yards on nine carries against Clark Fork.
To no one’s surprise, junior Jaxon Lee is Cutler’s favorite target. The Titan speedster has caught six passes for 105 yards in five quarters of play. Junior Daniel Brabender and senior Luke Holland have also been targeted by Cutler.
With Lee attracting so much attention after his 2017 season (54 rec., 1,101 yards, 22 TDs), the thought by some has been to try and take him out of the equation with double teams or special coverage. If so, you’re likely to get a dose of senior running back Colby Manley.
Manley had a solid junior season (159 carries, 915 yards, 18 TDs), but is already showing that when given the chance he can move the ball with the best of them. So far in five quarters of action, Manley has 264 yards and six scores on just 13 carries. He’s a big solid back who punishes defenders and when paired with senior lineman/fullback Kane Hess and several others, leaving them in a one-on-one matchup is no more palatable then playing Lee straight up.
But that may be exactly what Krahn plans to do.
“They run the ball very effectively, so you can’t double Lee,” observed Krahn. “We’ll likely go with Vaughan on Lee. He had a couple of picks last week against Arlee.
“They run the veer so well and block down field well … They are just well coached. We’ll play hard and try to get our reads. With them you’re danged if you do and danged if you don’t.”
NOTES – Charlo will be missing junior receiver Foust (broken arm) and possibly senior center Brock Tomlin. Tomlin suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Warriors. Krahn said Tomlin was being fitted for a brace, but that his status for Friday’s game was still unknown. … This game happens on a tough week for both teams, as each lost a day of practice due to the Labor Day holiday. … While the Vikings have been relatively steady as far as roster numbers (20 in 2017, 21 in 2018), the Titans have experienced growth after last year’s title run. They had 19 in 2017 and have grown to 26 in 2018. … Despite their steady roster numbers, the Vikings have only had 13 players actually take the field in 2018. … Following are the Class C 8-Man Rankings going into Friday night, as per 406mtsports.com:
1. Flint Creek (2-0)
2. Shelby (1-0)
3. Charlo (2-0)
4. Fairview (2-0)
5. Joliet (2-0)
6. Great Falls Central (2-0)
7. Choteau (2-0)
8. Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap (2-0)
9. Scobey (2-0)
10. Centerville (2-0)