GREAT FALLS – “Little things make big things happen” ~ John Wooden
If the axiom stated by the legendary college basketball coach is be taken as gospel, then its converse must also be accepted as truth.
Such was the case Saturday as the Flint Creek Titans lost to the Great Falls Mustangs 49-34 in the quarterfinals of the MHSA 8-man Football Championship. The loss ends the Titans season at 7-4 while the Mustangs improve to 8-2 and will face the Mountain Cats of Clark Fork next weekend in Superior.
The 15-point margin of the final score gives one the appearance that Great Falls was in command of this game more than it really was. Because despite playing a solid game, it was a series of penalties, missed assignments and dropped balls that ultimately may have sent Flint Creek home.
“It’s the same ol’ story for us that it’s been all year – mistakes,” observed Titans Head Coach Mike Cutler of his team’s defeat. “How many drops did we have? Wide open drops? Those types of things … Ball is in the air and it should have been intercepted and it gets tipped right into their hands and they score on that possession. It’s been like that all year long and when you get against better teams you can’t continue to overcome it.
“At some point you’ve got to quit killing yourself. At some point you’ve got to focus in and catch the football and at some point you’ve just got to do your thing.”
Cutler’s example referred to a potential interception by Sophomore Avery Metesh. Metesh got under a pass from Mustang quarterback Shane Girres to catch it, but fumbled it into the air. It came to rest in the hands of Great Falls’ Drew Newman who fell to the ground inside the 10. The bizarre play resulted in a score early in the second quarter that gave the home team a 13-6 advantage.
But Metesh’s miscue was one of many that happened throughout the game for Flint Creek. Missed blocks, tackles, dropped balls and untimely penalties kept giving the Mustangs yards and second chances that eventually ended in the scores that made the difference.
“I can’t say the better team won,” continued Cutler. “They were a very good football team but we often killed ourselves.
“They fought. It’s never a matter of quitting or anything like that and we can work with that. We’ve gotta catch the ball, we’ve gotta block and we’ve gotta tackle. And we didn’t necessarily do a good job of any of those three things today.”
Great Falls opened the scoring with a 39-yard scoring run from senior running back Jackson Malsam for a 6-0 lead. Flint Creek’s Kade Cutler answered that with a one-yard dive to even the score 6-6, which would last through the start of the second period.
The Mustangs’ Girres tossed two scoring passes in the period to give the hosts a 20-6 lead; One went to Malsam and the other to Logan Warren. In a unique twist for 8-man football, Warren kicked the point after on both scores and hit four total on the day.
But before halftime Flint Creek worked a little magic to close the gap. Cutler found Ethan Parke over the middle on a pass against the grain for a 10-yard touchdown and a 20-14 margin.
When the third quarter opened the Titans were back on the attack. Cutler hit Daniel Brabender for a 15-yard scoring pass and followed it up with an 18-yard run of his own. The two scores accounted for 14 points and a 28-20 Flint Creek advantage.
But before the period could end, Girres got loose for Great Falls. His 28-yard scoring run, and two-point conversion pass to Warren, knotted the game at 28-28 with just 12 minutes to play.
The Mustangs drew first blood with Girres again busting off a scoring run, this time from 19 yards out to give Great Falls a 35-28 lead.
Flint Creek responded with a two-yard run by Cutler on its next drive, but failed on the conversion and trailed 35-34.
The Mustangs put the game on ice with two more scoring runs from Malsam and Girres as time wound down.
When reflecting on the year, Coach Cutler expressed just how happy he was with the year and just how good his young team is, with just two active seniors at season’s end, and can be in the future.
“As a coach you get a little more frustrated. But we’re so young. What’s tough is that we make the same mistakes time and time again. In that aspect it’s kind of tough, but we’re awful young and in the quarterfinals. At the beginning of the year if I thought we could get to the quarterfinal … that’s a tremendous season. But these kids don’t realize just how close they are. We’re just a few mistakes from being in the semifinals.
“(The) kids had a hell of year.”
The Titans lose three seniors to graduation in Daniel Brabender, Wyatt Rigby and Conley Wagner. Replacing them as the leadership on the 2020 roster will be Kade Cutler, Preston Metesh, Ethan Parke, Tucker Weaver and Destin Linn.
Flint Creek 6/8/14/6 – 34
Great Falls 6/14/8/21 – 49
11:09 GF Jackson Malsam 39 yd run TD. Conversion pass failed.
3:59 FC Cutler 1 yd run TD. Conversion run failed.
10:44 GF Girres to Warren 22 yd pass TD. Conversion kick Warren.
3:29 GF Girres to Malsam 24 yd pass TD. Conversion kick Warren.
26.5 FC Cutler to Parke 10 yd pass TD. Conversion run Cutler.
9:03 FC Cutler to Brabender 15 yd pass TD. Conversion run Cutler.
4:29 FC Cutler 18 yd run TD. Conversion pass failed.
3:14 GF Girres 28 yd run TD. Conversion pass Girres to Warren.
11:31 GF Girres 19 yd run TD. Conversion kick Warren.
9:20 FC Cutler 2 yd run TD. Conversion run failed.
7:41 GF Malsam 39 yd run TD. Conversion pass Warren to Malsam.
6:00 GF Girres 10 yd run TD. Conversion kick failed.
NOTES – The loss halts Flint Creek’s postseason win streak at nine straight, dating back to their first playoff win of the 2017 season against Lone Peak, 64-0. The streak encompassed back to back state championships in 2017 and 2018, as well as a first-round, double-overtime win last week against West Yellowstone, 46-40. … With the Mustangs’ victory the series between the two programs now stands at 1-1.