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Missoula Big Sky's Levi Janacaro (15) leaps over Billings West's Teddy Krogh (2) before scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter Friday night. Big Sky beat Billings West 33-25 at Missoula County Stadium.

TOMMY MARTINO, Missoulian

MISSOULA — Regardless of Thursday's outcome between Kalispell Flathead and Missoula Big Sky, it's likely Eagles quarterback Levi Janacaro and Braves QB Taylor Morton will be at the forefront of the game's story.

There's running back Kadin Lahti in blue and gold and Trae Vasquez in black and orange; they'll likely have their names in Friday's paper too, and rightfully so.

But unless you're a coach, or a parent, you probably won't hear much about Elliott Seymour and Dorian Cilenti on Big Sky or Daniel Long and Alex Paull on Flathead. That doesn't mean they're any less important.

In fact, for these two Class AA football teams especially, they go as their front line goes.

"We always say that you're the guys who do the most work up here all the time, every play you're grinding it out, and somebody else gets their name in the paper — and you gotta be okay with that," Big Sky head coach Matt Johnson said.

Big Sky and Flathead find success with their front five in different ways, though.

***

Coach Johnson had a unique way of describing his O-line earlier in the season.

"We might not be big, but at least we're small," the Eagles head man said, smiling. 

The Eagles dictate their three-headed running attack of Janacaro, Lahti and Tyler Flink with a pesky blitzkrieg blocking scheme. They strike quickly and efficiently.

"Realistically we do it by committee. There's the five guys who maybe start, but at any point we might rotate three brand new guys in at the end of a drive," Johnson said of his O-line players, who are rotated in to keep fresh. Along with seniors Seymour and Cilenti, there's Dylan Allen, Logan Pearson, Austin Szwedkowicz, George Walks and tight end Rylan Wilcox.

"And we use different mixes on it, too, between our tight end and our running backs," Johnson said. "Between (running backs) Flink or (Hunter) Dutton, they just glom on to be part of the group."

And it's worked. Even though the rest of the Class AA may be well aware Janacaro and Lahti are coming straight for them, teams have had trouble stopping the 4-2 Eagles. 

But what happens when that force meets an object equally as determined to hold the line?

Meet Flathead's hog mollies: Long, Paull, Hunter Waters, Hunter Wellcome and Max Anderson. As coach Johnson has said, they outgun the Eagles in size and are the key cog to the Braves resurgence this season. After a 3-7 finish where Flathead missed the playoffs in 2016, the original team from the Flathead Valley has already matched its win total from last season at 3-2. The Braves have wins against Bozeman and crosstown rival Kalispell Glacier on their ledger this year. 

Their balanced diet of run and pass (the Braves have thrown for 1,105 yards and rushed for 1,199 according to maxpreps.com) starts at the point of attack, where they've wore down opponents.

"It all starts up front. ...We've been able to put up a lot of yards and points on offense and a big part of that is our offensive line," Flathead's fourth-year head coach Kyle Samson said. "The strength of the O-Line is their togetherness. They trust each other, it's a close knit group, and I think that's so important with offensive line. Two of our offensive lineman are captains."

And the front-line units have done it with little to no fanfare. 

That's the thing about offensive line — the only time anyone really notices you is when the official calls out your name for committing a holding penalty or moving too early.

It's inglorious but imperative.

"If you don't have the line, you can't run the ball on anybody. It's tough, you're always digging in trenches trying to find something, and we're fortunate to have a great quarterback who can make plays," Big Sky's Cilenti said.

It truly takes a different breed. The boys in the trenches might very well understand the definition of teamwork better than anyone on the football field. With each snap they're lockstep with a brother in arms by their side, one they know has no glory waiting for them when the whistle is blown and the clock strikes zero.

But a job well done means a win for their team, and that's something both Big Sky and Flathead — fighting to emerge from the Class AA middle-of-the-pack morass — will be leaning on their boys up front for come Thursday night.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Tyler Flink, Dylan.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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