BUTTE — Oddly enough, the top two teams in the Western 8-player division weren’t scheduled to play each other in 2021.
But by golly they made it happen.
The Drummond-Philipsburg Titans (11-0) will travel to face the Thompson Falls Blue Hawks (12-0) on Saturday for the MSHA 8-Man football state championship.
“Flint Creek’s a familiar foe,” said Blue Hawks coach Jared Koskela. “They’re in our division. We just haven't played them the last two years because of a scheduling snafu. But we played them in our first year in 8-Man. And ever since then, we’ve been watching film on them just because they played similar teams.”
When the two squads meet on the gridiron Saturday afternoon, Flint Creek will have a chance to secure back-to-back state titles.
The Titans entered the season with a new head coach, Jason Ostler, who took over for Mike Cutler. Even though Ostler’s squad experienced significant player turnover from last season’s state championship roster, the team still had lofty goals.
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“Coming in, we had really high hopes for the team,” he said. “We did lose a good senior class, but we still have 10 seniors I think, and we’re coming up with 12 juniors.”
While Flint Creek seems to reload year after year, Thompson Falls has also been trending up since its 0-8 season in 2018. Now the Blue Hawks have a chance to win their first state championship in 47 years.
“So 1975 is the last time Thompson Falls made it the state,” Koskela said. They won it that year – ’74 and ’75. They went back to back.”
T-Falls leans heavily on the production of its only two returning starters from 2020. Quarterback and defensive back Elijah Ratliff leads the team in total yards (1459) interceptions (5) and is second on the team with 69 total tackles. Running back and middle linebacker Trae Thilmony is also a force on both sides of the football. He has a team-high 1,095 rushing yards, 1,260 all-purpose yards, 101 tackles and is second on the team with 14 sacks.
“So it was kind of a huge question (before the season) of who's going to step up,” Koskela said. “And I expected those two to actually lead this team and to be a better team, if that was even possible. And it worked out that way. I have full confidence in Elijah as far as running the team.”
“They're definitely a run-first team that is trying to run downhill at you,” Ostler said, briefly describing his scouting report of the Blue Hawks. “They’ll really beat you up, physically control the clock and really get after you. They've got good running back and a good O-line.”
Defensively, Thompson Falls will try to make Flint Creek play left-handed and take away its identity. For the Titans, their identity on offense starts with the veer.
“If they run the veer, everything else opens up for them,” Koskela said. “They’ve been pretty good even though Cutler's not the coach anymore. This new guy stuck to that same philosophy and didn't change it for the kids. And that was good for them. I mean, they they're really good at doing what they do. So if they go away from that, which we're going to try and make them do, I think they wouldn't be as good as they are. But their offense is built around the veer.”
As they have all season, the Titans will likely rely upon the production of Tyler Burdon, Andrew Tallon, Chase Goldade and Avery Metesh.
“Those will be our main contributors,” Ostler said.
While Ostler and Koskela only have one head-to-head coaching matchup under their belts, they’ve squared up as players more times than either could keep track of. Between 2002-06 Koskela played linebacker for Montana Tech and Ostler played on the offensive line for Carroll College.
“I don't know the coach personally, but we literally hit heads in college,” Koskela said. “Two games a year for four years.”
“Oh, yeah, we ran into each other quite a few times,” Ostler said. “Yeah, he played linebacker and then I played left tackle. We probably ran into each other about every other run play there for a couple of years.”
Kickoff Saturday is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Thompson Falls High School in front of what should be a lively atmosphere as both communities have rallied around their respective teams.
“Businesses and shops are starting to pick up their support,” Koskela said. “It's good to see because I'm a hometown guy. I played for Thompson falls before I went to Tech, and just to bring that (support) back to the program that I went through is something really special. As more and more support keeps coming through, these kids feed off that, and it’s been humbling.”
“Our support’s been awesome,” Ostler added. “Our fans travel extremely well. We had as good a crowd as Fairview had in Fairview. I can’t remember how far that was, but it’s a long ways.
Matthew Kiewiet is the sports editor for the Montana Standard and sports betting columnist for 406MTSports. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @mattkiewiet406.