PHILIPSBURG – If you like old-style, 1950s football, Saturday’s 8-man match up at George Mungas Field may be right up your alley.
When the Culbertson Cowboys take on the Flint Creek Titans, it will be a contest of two teams that would prefer to run the ball every play. The game is a second-round matchup in the 2018 MHSA Class C 8-Man Football Playoffs.
Before we hit the abbreviated breakdown, here are a few pieces of basic information on the contest.
High 42/Low 31
Considerable cloudiness, a little snow, accumulating a coating to an inch. High 42F. Winds W 6 mph. Chance of precipitation 59%.
9-1 / 4-game win streak / PF 410, PA 124
vs St. Labre Indian Catholic, W, 52-0
at Powder River County, W, 38-0
at Scobey/Opheim, W, 26-24
vs. Lodge Grass, W, 56-6
vs Plentywood, W, 46-6
at Fairview, L, 56-14
at Lame Deer, W, 70-0
vs. Circle, W, 28-18
at Forsyth, W, 46-0
vs. Ennis, W, 34-14*
Flint Creek Titans
10-0 / 10-game win streak / PF 562, PA 82
vs Clark Fork Co-Op, W, 50-16, (in Butte)
at Troy, W, 50-6
vs Charlo, W, 52-8
at Seeley Swan, W, 82-0
vs Plains, W, 68-0
at Arlee, W, 36-14
vs Darby, W, 44-0
vs St. Ignatius, W, 68-24
at Victor, W, 62-0
vs. Choteau, W, 50-14*
*-Indicates Playoff Game
The Cowboys reached the second round by defeating Ennis 34-14 in the opener. That was Culbertson’s first playoff appearance since 2015 when they were in a co-op with Bainville. In the previous 10 years to 2015, that co-op made the postseason. But when the Bulldogs left to go their own way that success hit a lull.
In their first solo season in 2016, DJ Hauge stepped in as the new head coach. He had previously been the junior high coach and has now been with most of his players since those days.
“My whole offensive line, they’re all seniors. They’ve been with me since they were in seventh grade,” Hauge told MontanaSports.com in a Sept. 13, 2018 article. “Just being able to teach them, it’s been fun having that core group coming up together.”
Two of those players that have taken the ride with Hauge are cousins Noah and Carter Nickoloff. They are the Cowboy’s primary runners and figure to be the center of Culbertson’s attack Saturday. The Cowboys are run heavy on offense, although Hauge might have you believe otherwise as he estimates that his team is about 60-40/run-pass. But those who have stated their games suggest that they are closer to 80-20.
The Nickoloff boys are also at the center of the Culbertson defense, playing middle and outside linebacker.
Perhaps two of the biggest challenges that the visiting Cowboys will face deal with distance – the distance from Culbertson to Philipsburg and the change in elevation. Culbertson lies 532 miles from Butte and will be the Cowboys destination Friday.
Saturday morning they will get up and make the hour or so trip into Philipsburg and George Mungas Field on the campus of Granite High School. The difference in the elevation of the playing surfaces from Culbertson to Philipsburg is significant, with the Cowboys home field at 1,932 feet and the Titans home field residing at 5,243.
For Flint Creek fans it is reminiscent of the altitude change that they saw Fairview suffer in the second round when they faced a similar trip length and altitude change. The Warrior players, starters and bench warmers alike, were huffing and puffing heavily by the second quarter.
Flint Creek Titans
For the Titans it will be pretty much business as usual. In looking at game film on the visitors, Head Coach Mike Cutler didn’t seem to see anything that would take his team out of the game they love to play.
“We’re prepared for them,” said Cutler Thursday morning. “We’re healthy and ready to play.”
With Culbertson centering its game on the ground, it would seem to be playing right into the strength of what the Titans do on both sides of the ball. Despite that, the Cowboys don’t seem all that worried that they’ll need to change any of their schemes to accommodate the Titans.
“We’ll pretty much do what we do,” Hauge told the Flint Creek Courier of Saturday’s game. “They (Flint Creek) are big, physical and fast. They do all of the little things really well, so we’ll have to be on our game.”
Kade Cutler is showing more and more every day that he is comfortable running whatever offense the Titans need. Whether it’s handing it off to seniors Colby Manley and Kane Hess to pound it on the ground, airing it out to his receiver corps of Jaxon Lee, Luke Holland, Daniel Brabender or Riley Allen or running the ball himself, the sophomore play caller has made the full transition from the start of the season.
Defensively Flint Creek doesn’t really have a single standout, with a handful of players all over 40 tackles each on the year.
While Culbertson and Flint Creek battle in Philipsburg, three other games will be taking place in the quarterfinal round of the postseason. The winner of the Cowboys and Titans will play the survivor of the Shelby-Circle game, which takes place in Shelby. That semifinal game will also be at Shelby or Circle, as that half of the bracket holds the equivalent of the ‘Golden Ticket’ that Flint Creek held in 2017.
In the other half of the bracket, Great Falls Central plays at Scobey and Arlee is at Fairview. The winners will play at either Scobey or Great Falls Central.