MISSOULA — For the second season in a row, no football team could stop Flint Creek.
The Titans posted their second consecutive undefeated campaign, capping it with a 50-14 victory over Great Falls Central in the 8-man state championship game on Saturday. They became the first team to win back-to-back 8-Man titles since Drummond won three straight from 2003-05.
“It was an awful lot of fun,” Flint Creek coach Mike Cutler said. “With saying that, there was an awful a lot of pressure as well.”
The Titans snuck up on opponents during the run to the 2017 title, but they were the team everyone was gunning for this time around even though they had to replace their quarterback, middle linebacker and center. Knowing there’d be more pressure on them, Cutler started preaching his message well before the season began.
“It was, ‘Stay hungry, stay humble.’ Those are the words I used in the first parent meeting,” Cutler said. “It was difficult when we were playing teams that weren’t really good. The kids love to compete, so I wasn’t too worried about it. When we got in the playoffs, we didn’t have to talk too much about being emotionally ready. These kids have been here and done that.”
The Titans, in their fifth year as a co-op between Drummond and Philipsburg, didn’t win a single playoff game in their first three years together. Over the past two seasons, they’ve won 25 consecutive games, including eight straight in the postseason.
“A big part of our success is our two communities,” Cutler said. “We’re galvanized forever. We started to galvanize when we were successful last year. These kids were able to bring two communities together. Starting last year, we were a team, we weren’t based on individuals. The kids finally bought into that. That spilled over into the families and communities that nobody was bigger than the team.”
Flint Creek finished the season having outscored its opponents 714-130. That’s an average of 54.9 points per game scored and 10 points per game allowed. The only team that got within 21 points of the Titans was Shelby, the Class B runner-up last year that dropped down this season and lost 28-20 to Flint Creek in the 8-Man semifinals.
During their 25-game win streak, the Titans have outscored the competition 1,340-276. That’s a differential of 1,064 points, or an average of 42.56 points per game.
“It’s kind of some validation about what our program means and how our systems offensively, defensively and special teams have been effective,” Cutler said. “These are fantastic kids that also happen to be great athletes, too. It’s a combination of all those things. The cupboard’s not bare. We only lose four seniors. I’d like to think as the head coach we’ll have a chance to compete again next year.”
Flint Creek and the rest of 8-Man football will welcome a new team in Thompson Falls next season. The Bluehawks have played in Class B but will drop down for football. They’ve lost 11 consecutive games going back to the 2017 season.
Flint Creek was one of four area football teams to make the state title game but the only one to emerge victorious.
In Class AA, Kalispell Flathead lost to Billings West, 20-14, in the championship game in Billings. The Braves, who upset undefeated Bozeman in the semifinals, trailed 14-0 and couldn’t complete the comeback.
At Class A, Hamilton came up short in the state title game for the second year in a row, this time at its new athletic complex. The Broncs, who came in averaging 48 points per game, lost 28-21 and gave up 430 rushing yards to undefeated Billings Central.
In Class B, Loyola Sacred Heart failed to avenge its only loss of the season, dropping a 30-13 decision to Fairfield in Missoula in the title game Saturday. The outcome was closer than the Rams’ 34-10 loss to Fairfield on Sept. 8, but they were unable to slow Griz commit Ryder Meyer, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for one score as Fairfield overcame a 7-6 halftime deficit.
The Missoula Hellgate girls cross country team pulled off quite the upset at the state meet in October, ending Bozeman’s streak of 11 consecutive championships.
The Knights became the first AA school in Missoula to win a girls cross country state title. They ran away with the victory, posting a team score of 37, while Bozeman was second with a 57.
Five of Hellgate’s runners finished in the top 14 to earn all-state honors, and all seven placed in the top 17. Ember Stratton, a former No. 2 runner in the nation who had been dealing with injuries, placed third at state, while seniors Elise Stearns and Ella DeGrandpre finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Sophomore Abby Kendrick had a personal-record time to finish ninth, while junior Katie Munro placed 14th. Senior Madeline Swanberg took 16th, and senior Wren Cilimburg was 17th.
Individually, Polson senior Beatrix Frissell repeated as state champion, breaking her own Class A 5K record and winning by 21.02 seconds. Seeley-Swan freshman Sariah Maughan surprised herself by winning the Class C title and beating out two former state champions despite focusing on volleyball in the fall and not training much for cross country.
On the boys' side, Hellgate had a surprising second-place team finish, Kalispell Flathead senior Ben Perrin won the Class AA title and Columbia Falls took the Class A team title.
Libby senior Ryggs Johnston capped his high school career as a four-time state champion golfer.
Johnston, who signed to golf with Arizona State, won two state titles in Class A as a senior and a junior and two in Class B as a sophomore and freshman.
Johnston won the four state titles by an average of 10 strokes. The closest anyone came to beating him was his freshman year, when he won by six strokes.
Hellgate fell short in its attempt to become the first Class AA boys team to win four consecutive state titles. The Knights lost in the state title game, suffering a 2-1 defeat to undefeated Bozeman.
The Big Sky girls also made it to the state championship game but lost to undefeated Billings Skyview, 6-0. The Eagles were the top seed out of the west, which is believed to be their highest seeding since 1995.
In Class A, the Polson boys lost to Whitefish in the state title game, 6-2, while Frenchtown fell to Whitefish in the semifinals, 1-0.
Florence was the lone volleyball team from the area to make it to the state championship game, but the Falcons lost to undefeated Huntley Project in the title game for the second consecutive season. Florence, which will graduate standout seniors Rilee Mangun and Shannon Byrne, fell to Huntley Project in straight sets, 25-18, 25-11, 25-18.
In Class AA, Sentinel was unable to defend its back-to-back state titles. The Spartans didn’t even make it to the state tournament, getting beat by Hellgate in a play-in game.