DRUMMOND – It’s a sunny Wednesday morning as the Flint Creek Titans take to the field for the last of their two-a-day practices. And while no one on the team is talking about seasons passed, those campaigns are clearly one of the biggest elephants on the field.
But they are statistical pachyderms that the Titans don’t seem to care about.
“You know, as a team have never really talked about 25 in a row,” said Cutler. “I think if you asked these kids of course they probably would know with all of the hats and stuff with that on it, but I don’t think they even think about it.”
Despite focusing on the season at hand, it cannot be ignored that for the past two years the Titans have been nearly untouchable in Montana’s 8-man football. Save their 2018 semifinal win over the Coyotes in Shelby (28-20), Flint Creek has dominated every opponent it has faced since a first-round playoff loss in 2016 at Cascade under Jim Oberweiser in his final game as head coach of the program.
Since Cutler took over the program in 2017, the Titans have reeled off 25 consecutive wins and a pair of state titles.
The Other Elephant on the Bench
One of the keys to success in those championship runs was the play of former Flint Creek wide receiver Jaxon Lee. After last year’s title run, Lee transferred to Sentinel High School in Missoula to play on a bigger stage.
It was later discovered that the Spartan coaching staff had actively recruited Lee, bringing him to their school on a Sunday for a campus tour among other violations. Sentinel was fined $100 for the action, but the MHSA has moved to put more safeguards in place to prevent further such violations of their code in the future.
When asked about the loss of Lee, Cutler’s response was simple.
Next Man Up
Flint Creek lost four players last season to graduation in linemen Riley Allen and Kane Hess, wide receiver Luke Holland and running back Colby Manley. In 2019 the Titans return three seniors who will lead the charge in lineman Wyatt Rigby, defensive back Conley Wagner and receiver Daniel Brabender. Those three, along with junior quarterback Kade Cutler, will serve as the captains, providing leadership to a team that is ripe with talent but short on varsity experience.
Just like their coaching staff, the senior contingent isn’t about to rest on their laurels.
“(It’s) Just the same as last year,” said Wagner, the oldest player on the squad this year. “We have to work hard, do our thing, do what coaches say and trust the system.”
These players lead the younger members of the roster in ways that the coaching staff can’t, giving teammates a ride to practice, opening the gym for weight lifting and giving them encouragement to learn the plays and know what they’re doing.
“It’s pretty cool getting to work with this great group of kids, being able to see them as freshman and where I use to be and where I am now,” stated Rigby. “I’m just glad to be able to help them and have a great season.”
While positions need to be filled, Cutler and co-head coach JC Holland aren’t worried about who will be there to fill the holes.
“It’s just the next man up,” observed Holland. “Nobody’s bigger than anybody else. I think a lot of these kids are excited that it’s their time to shine.”
Under the Center of Attention
Kade Cutler will command the offense for Flint Creek for the second straight year. In his sophomore campaign he was 17-122 passing (63.1%) for 26 TDs against just four interceptions. A large majority of those went to Lee, but Cutler is already excited about what the new season will bring and his potential targets.
“I feel good,” he said. “Preston (Metesh) has been putting in the work along with his brother Avery (Megtesh), and Leighton (Wagner) and Conley. They’ve all put in a ton of work to get ready for this year.”
A more familiar set of hands will be that of Brabender, who came on strong as the 2018 campaign raced to the title. He finished second on the team with 11 receptions for six TDs.
Cutler’s backfield is empty with the graduation of Manley, who is in his first year at Rocky Mountain College, and Braden Huberg moving away. The Titans will have to develop a running game from rookie players to compliment Cutler’s running and scrambling ability, which netted him 14 TDs on 115 carries for 812 yards.
While there are a number of off-the-field things that have made the Titans tough over the last two years, on the field it has always been about their defense. In 2017 Flint Creek allowed just 146 points in 12 games (12.2 ppg) and clamped down even harder in 2018 in giving up 130 over 13 starts (10.0 ppg)
On the line it will be Rigby who leads the charge. In his first full season as a starter he collected a franchise best 20.5 tackles for loss that included a team record 10.5 quarterback sacks.
In the secondary Wagner will be in charge of patrolling the passing lanes. He had 13 pass break ups in 2018 and was second in total tackles with 63, 41 of which were solo efforts.
There is experience from last year’s squad on the defensive side of the ball, but people will have to step up if the Titans are to make another run at the postseason.
Two new men will join Cutler and Holland’s staff in Brandon Piazolla and Jason Ostler.
Piazolla is in his second year at Granite High School, having taken over as the girls varsity basketball coach last year. His football experience stems from his time as the starting QB at Noxon High School and a year at Western College.
“I’m learning a lot from Coach Cutler and Holland,” said Piazolla, who will coach the quarterbacks and defensive backs. “I think I can help these guys by bringing a familiarity with 8-man game.”
Ostler brings a wealth of knowledge of the game from his eight years as a player. He graduated from the Trojan football program in 2002 after a successful high school career before becoming the starting left tackle on four straight national championship teams at Carroll College.
“Winning before the snap with your alignment and knowing your responsibility, that’s a big part of it,” said Ostler of his position as Offensive Line Coach. “Knowing what you have to do getting off the ball. The little stuff is important no matter what level you’re playing at.”
The Secret of Their Success
While the Titans may lack in varsity experience and depth across the board, they have a wealth of playing experience thanks to their junior varsity program. According to Cutler and Holland, it’s the foundation of their program.
“A lot of kids on this team that have a lot of experience from the JV team,” said Cutler. “We’re probably one of the only schools in our league that have played full JV schedules the last few years.
“It’s not about one person, it’s the system that they’ve been part of since they were freshman.”
Holland echoed those comments.
“We don’t have a playbook, because by the time they get to be juniors and seniors they learned all of our plays when they were freshmen and sophomores. Continuity is the biggest asset we have.”
The Flint Creek JV will have a full slate of games again this season, with six of their eight games at home. They open with a game against Clark Fork September 3 in Drummond at 4:30 p.m.
Off to a Fast Start
When looking at Flint Creek’s schedule, they may have their toughest opponent of the regular season in Week 1 when they take on the Mountain Cats on the road. Clark Fork is a Coop of Alberton and Superior high schools and lost only two players from their 2018 playoff bound squad.