GRANITE COUNTY – This is it!
The Flint Creek Titans and Great Falls Central Catholic Mustangs will battle Saturday for the MHSA Class C 8-Man Championship. The game will take place at Butte’s Naranché Stadium with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.
Let’s get started by looking at the numbers…
High 35/Low 20 (Wind chill 29/13)
Variably cloudy with snow showers. High near 35F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of snow 40%. Snow accumulations less than one inch.
How They Got Here
Flint Creek Titans
12-0 / 12-game win streak / PF 664, PA 116
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*
vs Culbertson, W, 74-14*
at Shelby, W, 28-20*
Great Falls Central
9-1 / 3-game win streak / PF 427, PA 139
at Twin Bridges, W, 46-0
vs Hays-Lodge Pole, W, 61-0
vs Belt, W, 56-12
vs Choteau, W, 39-12
at Chester-Joplin-Inverness, W, 42-6
vs Chinook, W, 46-21
at Shelby, L, 34-0
vs Clark Fork Co-Op, W, 57-14*
at Scobey, W, 52-22*
vs Fairview, W, 28-18*
*-Indicates Playoff Game
vs. Common Opponents
For the first time in the 8-man iteration of the Great Falls program, the Mustangs managed to advance past the quarterfinals and have now reached the championship game. Great Falls finished as the #2 team out of the Class C’s Northern Conference at 9-1, losing at Shelby in the final week of the regular season in a divisional playoff game 34-0.
Offensively, the Mustangs are a run-oriented team with 67% of their plays happening on the ground. On paper, it would seem that they are a mirror image of the Titans. But the coaches would disagree.
“(We are) similar in the way of players, but not in the way of scheme,” said Flint Creek Head Coach Mike Cutler. “We are nowhere near the same in scheme.”
All schemes aside, the Great Falls ground game is led by Riley Dickinson. The 6-1, 185-lbs. senior has carried the ball 134 times in 2018 for 869 yards and 14 touchdowns. That carry total is 54 more than his next closest teammate, who is senior quarterback Noah Ambuehl (80 rush/392 yds/11 TDs). The stats would appear to show that Ambuehl likes to try to take the ball over the goal line when Great Falls is close.
Ambuehl has been successful when going to the air, hitting on 50% of his passes (67-for-134) for 1,034 yards and 16 TDs. His two favorite targets are seniors Ethan Vincent and Isaac Armstrong. Vincent has 18 catches for 452 yards and seven TDs, while Armstrong was 17 for 244 yards and five scores.
At 6-3, 225 lbs. Ambuehl has already committed to play for the Griz next fall … as a tight end.
Flint Creek counters with an attack that is identical as far as balance – 67% run and 33% pass.
Senior Colby Manley has been the center of that running attack, amassing 1,171 of the Titans 2,453 yards rushing. But with him suffering an injury to his right foot last week at Shelby, his status is questionable at best. As of now, Cutler is putting together his game plan with junior Braden Huberg in mind. Huberg stepped up and played well in Manley’s stead in last Saturday’s win and has accumulated 279 yards and five TDs on 45 carries. His performance against the Mustangs will be key to the success of the Titans offense.
“I like to think that our offense and defense are scheme oriented and that we can just plug our people in,” remarked Cutler. “But I’d also be naïve if I didn’t admit that losing Colby (last week) didn’t throw me off a little in play calling. Nothing against Braden (Huberg) because he did fantastic, but he just hadn’t been getting the reps.”
Huberg has been getting plenty of reps as the Titans prepare for the Mustangs.
Sophomore Kade Cutler has taken full control of the offense since coming on at the start of the year. He’s had a great rookie year going 74-for-115 for 1,195 yards and 24 TDs. And like Ambuehl, he’s second on his team in rushing with 103 carries for 684 yards and 13 scores.
“They have been one of the fastest football teams the last few years,” observed Mustangs Head Coach Greg Horton. “We have to find a way to stop that or at least slow it down. We’d like to stop their running game and make them pass.”
When Cutler goes to the air he looks for arguably one of the most dangerous weapons in Class C football in Jaxon Lee. While making 43 catches for 826 yards and 15 TDs, he’s also averages 17.1 yards per rush and is the Titans chief kick returner. Should Great Falls be able to shut down Lee, Cutler has had success going to seniors Riley Allen and Luke Holland and junior Daniel Brabender.
Dickinson is clearly the leader on the field when Great Falls is off the ball, collecting 77 tackles that included three QB sacks and eight tackles for loss. But after him the next closest player is junior Quin Pray with 47 stops and four sacks.
Flint Creek is led by senior lineman Kane Hess with 66 stops and 4.5 sacks. But the swarming nature of the Titan defense has three more players (Manley, Conley Wagner and Wyatt Rigby) who all have at least 51 stops each.
Rigby has proven an ability to get into the backfield and cause a stir, collecting 10 sacks this year for a total loss of 70 yards.
Wagner will be the substitute for Manley at linebacker, with Cutler moving into the safety spot. Both players have extensive experience in those positions from their junior varsity days and spot play during the 2018 campaign.
Both coaches played down the significance of the championship game, stating that they are trying to keep things as routine as possible for their players.
It’s something I learned at Carroll (College),” said Horton of the Mustangs’ first trip to the title game. “We just try to look at it as a business trip and keep the distractions as minimal as possible.” For Cutler and the Titans, this is a return trip to the championship after running the tables at 12-0 in 2017 and claiming the first-ever state title by a co-op program.
“It really has nothing to do with last year,” reflected Cutler. “It’s exciting to be in a state championship. That’s why we’re not talking about last year. It’s a whole different team and that’s how we approach it. It’s great to have that experience, but any time you get to play in a championship that’s a great thing.”
NOTES – This is Great Falls Central’s eighth year playing 8-man football. The Mustangs had never passed the quarterfinal round until 2018. … This is the first time in program history that Great Falls CC has played in the 8-man championship game. … Flint Creek’s win in the semifinals over Shelby made them 12-0 in 2018. When coupled with their undefeated 2017 campaign they have won 24 games in a row and are now tied all-time with Huntley Project (2008-2009), Cut Bank (1989-1990), Great Falls CMR (1989-1990), and Denton (2010-2011). A win over Great Falls in the championship would give them 25 straight and tie them with Baker (2001-2002). … Flint Creek has now scored 664 points on the year in 12 games, placing them fifth all-time in 8-man football. They rank just ahead of Superior at 645 points in 12 games. The Titans are 42 points behind a tie at No. 3 between Charlo and Superior at 706. Flint Creek is now 78 points away from the all-time 8-man scoring record of 742 set by Fairview over 12 games in 2012. … After scoring 28 points against Shelby, the Titans are now averaging 55.3 points per game (PPG), ranking them fourth all-time behind Charlo (68.7, 1971), Fairview (61.8, 2012), and Wibaux (60.7, 2006). … Saturday’s Class C 8-Man Championship Game is the first played on a neutral site for MHSA football. Next year the game will rotate to Rocky Mountain College's Herb Klindt Field in Billings.