PREVIEW: Flint Creek hosts Choteau in 8-man playoff opener
DRUMMOND – The field at Drummond High School has seen a lot of winning football over the years.
In the past two seasons it’s seen six games played by the Flint Creek Titans, all of which have resulted in victories.
But for Titan players and their fans, they need yet one more.
The Flint Creek Titans (9-0, No. 1 West) host the Choteau Bulldogs (6-2, No. 4 North) in the first round of the Montana High School Association’s Class C 8-Man Football Playoffs. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday with a Tailgate Party starting at 11:30 a.m., also at the field.
Before we dig into an analysis of the two squads, here are a few details about the teams as they performed this season and about Saturday’s game.
High 53/Low 31
A few showers in the morning with bright sunshine in the afternoon. High 53F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%.
6-2 / 3 game win streak / PF 298, PA 153
vs Ennis, W, 34-28 (in Butte)
at Chester-Joplin-Inverness, W, 34-28
at Hays-Lodgepole, W, 64-6
at Great Falls Central, L, 39-12
vs Centerville, L, 38-32
at Box Elder, W, 2-0 (forfeit)
vs Belt, W, 58-8
at Chinook, W, 58-6
Flint Creek Titans
9-0 / 9 game win streak / PF 512, PA 68
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
The Bulldogs are a team that likes to keep it on the ground and pound it out whenever possible, using a 60/40 run/pass ratio. But if forced, they’ve proven they can go to the air if needed.
Senior running back Pete Henderson has about 60% of his team’s rushing yardage at 907. Likewise he also has the same percentage of their 25 TDs on the ground with 15 and his 112 carries is more than half of Choteau’s 203 total. He is also a top notch wrestler.
“It really depends on what (defensive) schemes we’re up against,” said Choteau Head Coach Lucas Gunderson, in his fourth year with the Bulldogs. “We like to keep the ball on the ground as much as we can. We run mostly out of a Pro Set with two guys in the backfield.
“But we’ll go to trips or a spread if we need to.”
Once the Bulldogs go to the air, junior Johnny Rappold is the man under center. On the year Rappold was 61-for-123 for 1,087 yards and 15 TDs.
Rappold has used seven different receivers this year, but none more than senior Kyler Crabtree. Crabtree has caught 22 passes for 326 yards and three scores. Henderson has caught 10 passes with juniors Kolby Kovatch and Bryce Gramm each hauling in nine.
Flint Creek Head Coach Mike Cutler doesn’t feel like the Bulldogs are a true No. 4 seed, and is likely better than that. “Choteau is not last year’s Lone Peak. They are more like a two or a three seed. All four North teams are good, but I think the East may be stronger.”
Flint Creek Offense
The Titans are a triple threat when they have the ball, a fact that is not lost on the Bulldogs’ Gunderson. “Kade Cutler runs the read well and Manley runs the ball like a freight train. And then there’s Jaxon Lee … They have a lot of weapons.”
Anyone who’s watched Flint Creek for even a half knows that Gunderson is dead on, but a half is just about all anyone has seen of the Titans all season. In eight of their nine games Flint Creek has started the mercy rule running clock on the opposition. Only Arlee, the No 2 team out of the West, avoided that fate for an entire game.
Cutler may have started the season in the shadow of last year’s Colton Grange, but like Steve Young following Joe Montana, the sophomore play caller has put his own stamp on the position and stands alone.
In nine games this year Cutler is 52-for-81 (64.2%) for 792 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s also proven a capable runner, carrying the ball 71 times for 525 yards and eight scores.
When he goes to the air his favorite target is clearly Lee, who has caught 28 passes for 527 yards and 11 TDs. Luke Holland (12 rec./126 yds./1 TD) and Daniel Brabender (8 rec./ 118 yds./ 4 TDs) are Cutler’s No. 2 and 3 receivers.
Despite the successes of the passing game, running the ball is the foundation of Flint Creek’s success. Manley is at the center of that attack, having carried the ball 103 times for 964 yards and 20 touchdowns. Cutler is second but Braden Huberg has proven a solid rushing threat this year as well and appears to the heir apparent when Manley graduates.
And if the Titans need a few hard-fought yards up the middle, they call on senior lineman Kane Hess who doubles as a full back. He only has 63 yards on 11 carries this year, but he is a load that is tough to handle averaging over five yards a rush.
“I really like the look in our kids’ eyes,” said Coach Cutler. “They really have it after Victor. They’re not looking ahead at all.”
When looking at the stats from both teams Choteau has a slight advantage. But consider this – the Bulldog starters played in at least five full games this year; the Titans only did that once. So the stats that appear to be lacking for Flint Creek are more because their junior varsity squad finished eight of nine games this year, leaving the majority of the starters on the sidelines and without bulking up their stats.
Choteau didn’t have any reliable defensive statistics available, but we can at least compare the two teams as far as turnovers. Choteau had nine this year, Flint Creek just six.
Neither team reports any major injuries, but both have noted that the current version of the cold and flu viruses is making its way around the rosters.
Choteau is a senior-heavy team with 11 that will graduate after the season. Their roster also includes seven juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen. … Flint Creek has four seniors – Luke Holland, Riley Allen, Colby Manley and Kane Hess – along with five juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen. … The Bulldogs are in their second year of 8-man football after dropping down from Class B in 2016. They were 6-3 in 2017 and are now 12-5 over two seasons. … The Titans are in their fifth year of the Co-Op between Granite and Drummond, compiling a record of 34-10. That mark includes a 17-1 record at home, with the lone loss coming to Charlo 62-54 in 2015. … With their 9-0 record this season, the Titans have won 21 consecutive games and are tied with Geraldine at No. 19 on the all-time list. A win against Choteau would give them sole possession of that status and set them up to tie Loyola Sacred Heart at 23 straight with a win in the quarterfinals. … During Flint Creek’s championship run in 2017, the Titans played their first of four home playoff games at Drummond against Lone Peak. The Big Horns proved to be mismatched against the eventual champs, losing 64-0. … Choteau will have to travel 165 miles to the game via Helena and Garrison, unless they opt to drive the shorter 125 miles by going through Lincoln and Helmville.