MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel and Kalispell Flathead went into last week’s games looking like they could come into Washington-Grizzly Stadium this Friday sporting identical 3-0 records.
Instead, the Spartans suffered an overtime road upset against Great Falls High while the Braves got off to a slow start couldn’t erase a 21-0 deficit in a blowout defeat to Billings West at home.
The losses took some luster off this week’s meeting, but Sentinel and Flathead are still the top two teams in the area, with the Spartans ranked fourth in the state. They’ll each look to get the pivotal head-to-head win that could pay off down the road in playoff seeding when they square off at 7 p.m. Friday in Missoula.
“We’re going to have six more games after this, so regardless of the outcome, we’re going to focus on the improvement,” Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver said. “That was our message after last week. We took another step. I know it didn’t result in winning, but I thought we showed some amazing resiliency. We just have to find ways to make one extra play to win a game.”
The Spartans are coming off their lowest-scoring performance of the season, putting up 30 points in a game that included an overtime session. They’ll get back wide receiver Preston Jones, who had rolled an ankle, and defensive lineman Torin Jackson, who had shoulder issues, Oliver said.
Sentinel will be tasked with slowing down a potent offense that includes running back Blake Counts and wide receiver Anthony Jones. Senior Jaden MacNeil took over at quarterback this year after running a wildcat package last year in addition to earning all-state honors at safety.
“I see a team that has some firepower,” Oliver said. “Their running back is a pretty big load to bring down for one guy, so we’ve got to gang tackle. Their quarterback is big and can be dangerous outside the pocket. They’re big and play hard.”
He added: “Their running sets up their play-action pass. Everything stems from those two guys in the backfield. We need to contain them and know where they’re at in the backfield. We have to understand situational awareness and what they might do. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to being great tacklers.”
This will be the first meeting between Sentinel and Flathead since 2016, when the Spartans won a 17-10 overtime thriller in Missoula.
Missoula Big Sky and Missoula Hellgate will meet in the second crosstown game of the season, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Missoula County Stadium.
The Eagles (1-2) are coming off their first win of the season, 24-14, over Great Falls CMR as they got defensive stops at key times.
The Knights (0-3) are still in search of their first win since Oct. 5, 2012. They showed signs of improvement in their most recent game, hanging with Helena High in the first half and getting their first passing touchdowns of the season before losing 56-14.
Loyola Sacred Heart will look to bounce back from last week’s 38-6 loss to Fairfield in its home opener.
The Rams (2-1) open conference play when they welcome Deer Lodge to Missoula for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday at Rollin Field.
The Wardens (1-1) are fresh off the program’s first-ever win over rival Anaconda, 54-20. They have a developing deep-threat connection between quarterback Judd Applegate and wide receiver Greydon Nicholson.
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Missoula Valley Christian will be the first team to face Lima this season when the teams kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Lima.
The Eagles (2-1) have won back-to-back home games by a combined score of 131-83 against Sheridan and Gardiner.
The Bears (0-0) forfeited their first two games because they didn’t have enough eligible players. They had an off week last week and will come into this game with six players available.