MISSOULA — The choice that a Missoulian headline once described as “nearly unthinkable” is 48 minutes away from producing a state championship.
Bitter rivals Drummond and Philipsburg formed a co-op football program named Flint Creek ahead of the 2014 season because of dwindling enrollments at both programs. Although Drummond was a football power with five state titles from 2003-09, Flint Creek had never won a playoff game before this season.
Now the Titans (12-0) will have their chance to bring home an 8-man football championship when they take on Forsyth (12-0) in a battle of undefeated teams 1 p.m. Saturday in Philipsburg.
“It would mean a lot to both these communities and these kids,” said Flint Creek head coach Mike Cutler, a 1988 Philipsburg grad and former Missoula Big Sky assistant coach who has never won a title as a player or coach. “This whole thing has been about the team. Individually, it would mean a lot to me, but what's more meaningful is how the two communities and the individual kids would benefit.”
It will be just the second appearance in the title game for the Philipsburg side, although its football-playing history dates back to the early 20th century while Drummond didn’t field a team until 1969. Philipsburg lost the only other time it advanced to the championship game, 56-25 to Richey in 1979.
“We’re extremely happy to have it here,” said Cutler, who’s in his first year as the Flint Creek head coach after previously serving as the offensive coordinator. “Our fans are going to be out in force. I’m sure Forsyth is going to travel very well. I think it’s going to be a great game.
“If I wasn’t a coach, I’d be at this football game to watch it. That’s for sure.”
The Titans introduced themselves as state-title contenders when they knocked off Charlo late in the regular season. The Vikings, at the time, were the No. 1-ranked team in the 406mtsports.com poll.
Flint Creek’s defense has risen to the occasion in the playoffs. The Titans have given up just 22 total points in three playoff games for an average of 7.3 points per game. Fourteen of those points came in a 46-14 victory over Circle in the semifinals.
“This run has been super tough,” Flint Creek quarterback Colton Grange said after the semifinal win. “All these teams are physical once we get in the playoffs. There’s no teams that are bad. You just have to bring it every day.”
Forsyth made it to the title game by knocking off defending champion Ennis, 50-38, in the other semifinal. The Dogies have allowed an average of 28 points in three home playoff games during their first year as an 8-man program after dropping down from Class B prior to the season.
Flint Creek and Forsyth have played three common opponents this season, and the results are eerily similar:
- Flint Creek defeated Circle 46-14. Forsyth won 46-18 against the Wildcats.
- Flint Creek beat Fairview 46-8. Forsyth beat the Warriors 54-8.
- Flint Creek took down Charlo 46-28. Forsyth won 50-32 when they played the Vikings.
What’s also been similar is the number of points both teams have scored. Flint Creek is averaging 52 points per game in the playoffs, and Forsyth is at 51.3 points.
The biggest difference between the two teams on offense is style of play. Flint Creek runs more of a spread, while Forsyth likes to line up more in a tight-I formation, Cutler said, with quarterback Caleb Knoche and running back Nathan Weber.
“They’re going to run the ball down your throat if they can,” Cutler said. “We haven’t seen a whole lot of that. Circle tried to do that and had some success. I expect it to be extremely physical.”
Forsyth also brings speed in receivers and twin brothers Paul and Cade Johnstone, who recently signed their National Letters of Intent to compete on the Montana Grizzlies’ track and field team starting next school year.
Paul flashed his speed when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the semifinals. He added two receiving touchdowns.
“We’ve seen some of their size but haven’t seen the speed that team brings to the field on offense and defense,” Cutler said. “They’re extremely aggressive.”