MISSOULA — The secret that Polson football coach Kaden Glinsmann tried to hide all summer is well out there now: The Pirates have their quarterback of the future.
Sophomore Jarrett Wilson has used his cannon of a left arm to rank ninth in the country in passing yards per game while guiding Polson to a 3-1 record and three consecutive wins with an offense that returned just two starters from last year's 4-5 team.
Wilson’s strong start goes back to his freshman year, when he experienced the varsity level while thrust into starting at cornerback because of an injury to Trevor Schultz. That’s helped him adapt to the speed of the game and come up clutch on two final drives with a strip fumble and recovery against Whitefish and an interception Browning to seal a set of wins.
When the coronavirus led to the cancellation of track, Wilson turned his attention to getting in early prep to play quarterback. He brought teammates out for throwing sessions, showing the maturity and leadership of a coach’s son; his father, Scott Wilson, formerly coached the Pirates.
In the summer, Wilson showed his abilities to deliver the ball to players when Polson made trips to Glacier for skeleton passing work. He started to bring back visions of a winning team and an offense led by his brother Tanner Wilson, who was a backup quarterback at Montana in the Big Sky Conference, where Glinsmann thinks Wilson may get a look at quarterback or safety.
“We had a pretty good suspicion with our summer program that he’d be really good for us,” Glinsmann said of his 5-foot-10, 175-pound signal caller ahead of the Pirates’ matchup at 3-1 Libby at 7 p.m. Friday. “We just didn’t how special he’d be. He has a long way to go, but we’re excited about where he’s at and what he can be.”
Wilson is averaging 393 yards of offense per game, including 352.3 through the air, an impressive amount even though some states aren't playing football and could've had players push him down the leaderboard. He’s completed 62.6% of his passes (112/179) for 1,409 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. They’ve passed the ball 73.1% of the time, but when they’ve run, Wilson has 37 of those 66 carries and has rushed for a team-best 155 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s coming off a game in which he had 559 yards of offense, the second most in Class A history, throwing for 439 and running for 120 to become the fifth Class A player to go over 300 passing and 100 rushing in the same game, according to Class A statistician Brian A. Reed.
That came after Wilson threw for a school-record 444 yards in the opener, making him the fourth Class A player with multiple 400-yard passing games in an entire career, and he's played just four games.
“We try to do a very good job of protecting where he’s looking with his eyes and misdirection to where you can’t just key on where he’s looking with his eyes,” said Glinsmann, a former Carroll College defensive backs coach now in his second season at Polson. “There's time where it looks like he's looking one and goes another way. That’s by design. We’re looking to keep him in the pocket and give him quick throws but other times we want him to get out of the pocket.”
Wilson has done that while operating behind a makeshift offensive line that has two returning starters in addition to a freshman at tackle, a junior at guard and a wide receiver-turned-guard.
Polson’s approach to its uptempo offense has been throwing to space with the belief defenses don't have enough players to completely blanket the field and some spot should be open. Right now, they’re telling Wilson about what to do, but Glinsmann believes it won’t be long before he brings his own ideas to the coaches.
Wilson’s top target has been junior wide receiver Colton Graham, a basketball player who didn’t come out for football until one game into last season and is more than halfway to 1,000 yards this season in just three games. He has 27 receptions for 511 yards and four scores, going for 246 yards against Ronan and 251 against Columbia Falls.
Graham sat out against Browning because of injury and was bracketed by two defenders against Whitefish, limiting him to three catches for 14 yards. So Wilson shifted away from his go-to guy against Whitefish, throwing for 163 yards and two scores to Jony Perez, one of five receivers with 148 or more receiving yards this year.
“We have young guys on the offensive line, and the one thing I knew I could teach them right away is pass protection and allowing Jarrett to be successful around it,” Glinsmann said. “We don’t have dudes who live in the weight room, but what we do have is great basketball players, baseball players and athletes who want the ball in space and don’t shrink in the moment. That’s been a product of Jarrett’s statistics is he knows those kids and believes in those kids.”
Polson hasn’t lost since blowing a 14-point lead in the season opener at Columbia Falls, one of five conferences teams at 3-1, along with Polson, Libby, Dillon and Frenchtown. Whitefish is 2-2, while Hamilton is 4-0 to lead the league, which will send four teams to the playoffs instead of six because of a reduced bracket due to the pandemic.
The Pirates’ road test at Libby could go a long way in determining whether they make the playoffs. It’ll be two different styles of football as Polson will look to pass and score quickly while Libby will try to shorten the game and run the clock with their ground game.
“We view this as a playoff game,” Glinsmann said. “This is a huge one for us. It’s a big test. I think more than anything, this upcoming game is why we all love football so much. There’s different ways to play football, and you’re going to see a clash of styles.”
Charlo, ranked No. 7 in Class C 8-Man, has raced out to a 4-0 record, doubling its win total from last year by outscoring its opponents 176-18. But second-year coach Reese Cox knows his team still has a lot to prove after beating teams with a combined record of 4-9.
Cox and the Vikings will get that test 7 p.m. Friday when they host No. 2 Drummond-Philipsburg (Flint Creek), which is 4-0, led by Montana State commit Kade Cutler and won the state title in 2017 and 2018 under coach Mike Cutler.
“This is a great matchup for us because I don’t think we’ve got a real tough challenge yet,” Cox said. “This will be a real strong test to see where we actually are. We need to push the belief that we are a good team because we are a young team still learning.”
The Vikings’ methodical offense has been guided by junior quarterback Coyle Nagy, who's completed 35 of 59 passes for 501 yards and six touchdowns and has run for 167 yards and five scores without committing a turnover. Senior running back Roper Edwards has been productive in the red zone, running for seven touchdowns and 226 yards.
“In my opinion, Coyle’s the top quarterback in the division for being a pocket passer,” Cox said. “I think he’s better than (Alberton-Superior's Bryan) Mask and Cutler with his eyes down field and making good passes. When you talk about better football player, better runner, it’s Kade over Coyle."
Nagy has also made a defensive impact as well at cornerback, collecting 25 tackles and two interceptions. Senior linebacker Nate Clark leads Charlo with 27 tackles. Sophomore defensive end Dawson DuMont has 22 tackles to go with a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a strip sack that led to a fumble recovery for a score.
Charlo has pitched two consecutive shutouts and hasn't allowed more than 12 points in a game.
“We don’t have a single individual as insanely good as Kade, and they’ve got a good running back in Preston Metesh, but we have five or six skill positions guys who can equal that,” Cox said. “And I have Coyle Nagy, who's always going to be the smartest player on the field on both sides of the ball.”
Frenchtown finds footing
Frenchtown’s offense has come to life during its three-game winning streak, outscoring its opponents 120-18. The Broncs have adapted to the new scheme installed by co-offensive coordinator Troy Waters, who previously was the OC at Missoula Loyola and is now sharing duties with Josh Criner.
Waters has implemented a spread offense with the zone read as Frenchtown went away from the spread-option ground game it leaned on last year to make the state quarters.
“Our run scheme is pretty much identical to what we did two years ago, but as far as our passing, Troy has completely overhauled how we have done it in the past,” Frenchtown coach Ryne Nelson said. “The main thing is the verbiage of the offense is brand new and different, so it took some time to grasp it and get a hold of it."
The play of first-year quarterback Wyatt Hayes has been key as he can mix in screen passes to running backs, take deep shots to rangy receivers Devin Shelton and Brandon Finley, or run the ball himself.
“Wyatt is starting to settle in and get comfortable. Our O-line, receivers and running backs and getting on the same page. It’s all time and repetitions and working to get it in," Nelson said, noting that the team felt it beat itself in the season opener, giving up defensive and special teams scores to Now-No. 4 Dillon in a 20-13 loss.
The Broncs face their biggest test since the opener when they host Class A No. 1 Hamilton (4-0) at 7 p.m. Friday. While the offense has grown, the three teams they’ve defeated are a combined 1-9, so facing Hamilton will allow them to see how far they’ve come.
“We know for a fact that in all three phases of the game we’re going to be tested,” said Nelson, who’s 0-3 against Hamilton as Frenchtown’s head coach. “It’s a test to see what you’re made of when you force some adversity. It’ll be a fun one.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!