GRANITE COUNTY – For Flint Creek Week 5 of the 8-man football season will probably seem a lot like the postseason.
When the Titans and their fans roll into Thompson Falls Friday night, they’ll be playing a top-ranked team in the Blue Hawks in a game that will have a one-and-done atmosphere and it will be more than chilly.
In other words, pretty much another typical night on the grid iron for the boys in green and black.
But before we break down the two teams, let’s looks at the game particulars…
Despite having played conference leading Clark Fork in the season opener, Thompson Falls may be the toughest team that Flint Creek will play in 2019.
The Blue Hawks are playing their first season of Class C football in over 60 years according to the Sanders County Ledger, having suffered through a 0-11 year in 2018. Their decision to drop down stemmed more from their drop in enrollment, which is around 120 after group home care facilities are factored out of their student population.
Like the Titans, Thompson Falls’ only loss this year has come at the hands of the Mountain Cats (56-38, Week 3). They have beaten Choteau, Victor and Darby. The season-opening win over the Bulldogs hints at their effectiveness, as Choteau is currently the No. 2-ranked team in the Northern Conference behind Great Falls Central.
Needless to say, the Blue Hawks are a much better team than the last conference leader – the previously unbeaten Blackhawks of Seeley Swan – which the Titans beat last week.
While some teams try and balance their offense, Thompson Falls relies heavily on the run game. Over their four games this year the Blue Hawks are on the ground 91.4% of the time and go to the air just 8.6%. But regardless of how they attack, the weapon of choice is primarily senior QB Trey Fisher.
Fisher, who finished third in the Javelin at the Class B State Track and Field meet last spring, has proven he can throw. But doing so with accuracy has been another story. In 2018 he completed 37.4% of his pass attempts (89-of-238, 1,068 yds) which netted him seven touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Fisher has rarely thrown for the Blue Hawks in 2019, going 9-for-26 for 137 yds, five TDs and two interceptions.
“He’s not much of a thrower, but he’s tough as nails,” said Thompson Falls Head Coach Jared Koskela. “We got forced into throwing a lot last year when we got behind, so going to our strength wasn’t an option.
“He’s a lot like Kade (Cutler) over at Flint Creek. Every team has an athlete and he’s ours, so you give him the ball whenever you can.”
Fisher is also the Blue Hawks’ top rusher with 601 yards and nine TDs on 73 attempts.
Also coming out of the backfield are a host of seniors that give Thompson Falls a varied attack, albeit all by the run. Among them is Nate Wilhite who has carried the ball 37 times for 413 yards and four scores.
“We’re going to use the strength that we’ve got,” said Koskela of his team’s game plan. “We’re not really going to change anything. We have a few little wrinkles, but we’ve not really had a chance to work on them yet. We’ll just have to see what they give us.”
Flint Creek’s Kade Cutler is cut from the same cloth as Fisher, except he most definitely can throw the ball. In 2018 he finished with a QB Rating of 211.4 based on his going 77-for-122 that resulted in 1,228 yards and 26 TDs against just four interceptions. In 2019 Cutler has been on roughly the same pace, completing 27-of-49 for 437 yards and eight TDs against three interceptions.
But it’s been the last two games that has found Cutler running wild on opponents. He has accumulated 603 yards on the ground this year, but picked up 418 in the last two games against Charlo and Seeley Swan.
A big factor for the Titans last week was the return of junior Preston Metesh. Metesh started the year at wide receiver and left the game against Clark Fork with a deep thigh bruise, but returned in the win over the Blackhawks at running back. The switch paid big dividends as Metesh collected 245 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
During their back-to-back 8-man state title runs, Flint Creek was renowned for its team tackling on defense. They will face a similar defense Friday as Koskela has Thompson Falls playing in the same mind set. A good example was its loss to Clark Fork where the Blue Hawks had 30 solo tackles against 51 assists.
The ‘elephants in the room’ are Blue Hawk lineman Justin Miller (Sr.), Jack Jacobson (Sr.) and Cody Burk (Jr.), who play both ways. The trio weighs a combined 725 lbs, with Miller topping everyone on the field at 280. Conversely the Titans have a single player that tips the scales at 187 in freshman Grady Radtke.
Is that an advantage for Thompson Falls? Both coaches seem to think it could be under the right conditions.
“Our line is a little bit bigger than theirs. But they are going to be so fundamentally sound from what we’ve seen on film,” said Koskela. “We may be able to push them, but we have to get a hold of them first.
“They are so well coached that we have to respect everything that they do and not take anything for granted.”
Titans and Head Coach Mike Cutler have faced this problem before, being the David to an opponent’s Goliath.
“(Their size) presents big problems,” observed Cutler. “But look at 2017. We had a 180 pound center and a 150 pound guard. We don’t talk about it and the kids don’t worry about it much. We just have to stay lower than them.”