2020 8-Man Football Championship Notebook: Holland and Cutler go out with a bang
GRANITE COUNTY – With their win Saturday, the Flint Creek Titans can easily lay claim to being the best 8-Man football program in Montana since their creation in 2014. With seven straight playoff appearances and three state titles in the last four seasons, no team has experienced such success.
While they will consistently deflect any recognition to their players, Co-Head Coaches Mike Cutler and JC Holland deserve recognition for the program they have created.
The duo took the reins of the program in 2017 when Jim Oberweiser retired following the 2016 season, having shared the job with Cutler. Being on the same staff for the first three years of the program, the shift to running the Titans together was a dream come true for the life-long friends.
“We talked about getting to coach together someday, but we didn’t think it would ever happen,” said Holland after the title game. “But the numbers from both schools went to heck and that was kind of an opportunity … Our getting to coach together was just a blessing.”
Holland explained how he and Cutler had grown up in the same era – Holland in Drummond and Cutler in Philipsburg. The two schools and their fans were deadlocked in a heated rivalry that lasted for decades with remnants still visible today in other areas.
Holland continued, “We grew up as rivals from Philipsburg and Drummond. And every time we played PBurg I wanted to kill him and he wanted to kill me and that’s the way it was. But when the game was over it was over. We always respected each other as football players and as people. When we got out of school we started hanging out and our wives are good friends and our families.”
But that community division is almost gone when it comes to football.
“I can’t say enough about this group of kids and these parents,” an emotional Cutler said after the game. “I’m not easy to play for. But they just let me coach their kids and I love every one of them and I’ll do everything I can for them.
“It wasn’t me (bringing them together) and it’s not over. We have to keep growing as Titans. There’s still growing to do in both communities. When it all comes down to it and the ball gets kicked off, they unite for these kids and that’s all that matters. I’m so proud of these communities coming together. There isn’t a better place to play football. All this Titan stuff all over the field … Wow!”
As the two friends ride off into the sunset, they leave behind a record of 44-4 over their four-year tenure as the Flint Creek coaches.
“I’m just so happy for the kids winning this,” Holland observed of his retirement. “That’s our goal every year and when you finish like that it just can’t get any better. So as far as me not coaching anymore, that’s irrelevant. It’s awesome to go out in your last game with a win and a state championship, but it’s just all about the kids.”
Cutler’s sentiments were similar to his buddy’s about retirement.
“It’s time. My way of coaching has passed by and I’m not an easy guy to play for. These kids have just done everything that I’ve asked them to. I only know how to coach one way. I’m proud to have had time with these guys.
“I’ve been asked about this (retirement) all week. I guess it’s finally, you know what I mean? At the beginning of the fourth quarter I thought, ‘This is my last quarter.’ Of course we were lucky enough to be ahead. I guess I didn’t understand how I feel about this. I’m so happy for my buddy JC.”
We’re No. 1 … Again
The Titans finished with an unblemished record for the third time in four years, earning them their third state title in four years.
Old Familiar Face
Since the Co-Op was created in 2014, only two 8-Man teams have made the postseason every year – Flint Creek and Fairview. While the Warriors have been consistently deeper into the bracket over those seven years, they have only one state championship to Flint Creek’s three.
Climbing the Charts
Based on its own formula, the website MaxPreps.com saw the Titans climb to #6 nationally after being ranked #8 prior to winning the title. That marks the highest ranking that Flint Creek has achieved on MaxPreps, with the team claiming a #16 ranking in 2018 and #32 in 2017.
The Spartans dropped from #72 to #75.
MaxPreps rankings are for all of 6, 8, and 9-man football.
Starting like you finished
The Spartans’ loss leaves them with a record of 10-2 on the year. Their two losses came in the season opener to MonDak 28-22 and to the Titans. The six points Saturday was their lowest output of the season.
Likewise, the Titans gave up just one score in their season opener to St. Ignatius and allowed just one to the Spartans Saturday.
Flint Creek posted the most dominant numbers in its seven-year history in 2020. The Titans scored 658 points in 12 games for an average of 54.8, second to 2018’s effort of 54.9 (714 points in 13 games).
Defensively it was their best season ever, allowing just 76 total points for a 6.3 PPG average. However, the starting defense played less than half the regular season, giving up only 8 points to St. Ignatius in the season opener. Adding that score to their playoff totals leaves the starting eight having allowed just 46 points in 12 games for a 3.8 PPG.
No Place Like Home
The Titans have experienced tremendous success on their home fields. Overall they are 62-12 with a home record of 35-3 since their creation. The only teams that have dealt Flint Creek a loss at home are Belt (2014 postseason) and Charlo (2015 & 2016, both regular season games).
Belt’s win came in the first round of the postseason and accounts for the Titans’ only home playoff loss. Since then the locals are a perfect 10-0 in playoff home outings.
Flint Creek has a 21-game overall home winning streak since losing to Charlo Sept. 9, 2016.
The Flint Creek Titans collected their third state championship and the eighth overall for Granite County. That makes county squads 8-of-9 in football title tilts all-time.
The One ... uh ... Three Rings
Four of the six seniors on Flint Creek got their third championship ring Saturday, placing them in an elite club that now numbers 21. Those graduating players are Kade Cutler (3), Mason Graeff (55), Preston Metesh (1) and Tucker Weaver (32). Ethan Parke (10) earned his second ring and Trevor Morrissey (22) his first.
During Drummond’s dominance in the early 2000s, 17 players earned three rings each as members of those football teams. Eight of those players were also members of the 2005 State Track and Field Champion Boys Team, making them the only athletes in Granite County with four team titles.
Unlike his present teammates, Graeff makes the same claim as his predecessors by winning them in three consecutive seasons. Graeff played in 2017 and 2018, but took the 2019 season off before rejoining the roster in 2020.
Putting some Rings on it
Flint Creek Co-Head Coach JC Holland makes himself the winningest coach in 8-man history with the win Saturday, earning him his eighth piece of title jewelry Saturday. He previously earned five with Drummond and two at Flint Creek.
Spreading it Around
With the Titans acting as a catalyst to bring Granite County residents together, it seems only fitting that each of their three championships was won in a different place. 2017 saw Flint Creek beat Forsyth in Philipsburg, 2018’s win over Great Falls Central was at Butte’s Naranché Stadium and Scobey was defeated Saturday in Drummond.
Déjà vu All Over Again
At the start of the year Cutler compared his current roster to that of 2017, the first season Flint Creek won the title. The similarities from that season to this are interesting to say the least.
Both teams finished with perfect 12-0 records.
The 2017 Quarterback was Colton Grange, the first four-year player to call the plays under center. 2020’s QB was Kade Cutler, the second four-year play caller.
Hot Springs backed out of a game in Week 2 of the 2017 season as they were unable to field a full roster. Plains opted to take the no contest route this year when a Titan player tested positive for Covid-19.
Speaking of the pandemic looming over the year, 2017 featured the worst fire season in years in the Treasure State. Many of the early games were riddled by thick, heavy smoke that caused games in other cities to be postponed or cancelled. 2020 = Pandemic.
The year prior to their first state championship, 2016, Flint Creek lost one of its front-line starters in Mark Estes to a season-ending knee injury. The void caused a number of younger players to step into new positions and mature at a rate faster than previously anticipated. 2017 benefited from that and won the crown. Fast forward to 2019, a year that started with senior RB/DB Conley Wagner suffering a season-ending foot injury that sidelined him through half the basketball season. Younger players were forced mature and 2020 reaped the rewards.
2017’s finals opponent was Forsyth, the No. 1 from the East. 2020’s opposition was Scobey, No. 1 from the East.
The final score by the Titans in 2017 against Forsyth was made by senior lineman Anthony Crittela, the only touchdown of his career. 2020’s final score by the Boys in Black was by senior lineman Mason Graeff, a two-point conversion and the only points of his career. The play used to get the conversion was called ‘Forsyth’.