By KATIE BROWN
The Daily Inter Lake
Watching first-year Flathead football head coach Matt Upham from the sidelines, you might be reminded a bit of his predecessor, Kyle Samson.
He’s animated, engaged and expressive. You might be be able to guess how the game is going just by reading his facial expression or by how quickly he paces the sideline. Yet he’s still quick with a smile or an encouraging word.
So it’s not surprising that he shouldered the responsibility for the Braves’ 35-0 loss to the Bozeman Hawks in their season opener at Legends Stadium on Friday.
“Right now we’ve just got to focus on us and I’ve got to do a better job of getting our guys ready to play on Friday night,” Upham said.
Bozeman (1-0), undefeated until meeting Flathead in playoffs last season, looked like the seasoned team it would be. Flathead (0-1) lost a number of starters, so its a matter of working out the kinks and players adjusting to new roles.
The Hawks’ running game was all but unstoppable, totaling 294 yards to Flathead’s 49. The Braves couldn’t find an answer to it.
“Tonight we didn’t stop the run and that’s the difference in the ball game,” Upham said. “They had more snaps on offense than we did. Hats off to Bozeman, they’re well-coached by coach (Levi) Wesch, he does a great job.”
Upham also attributed some of Flathead’s troubles to fatigue. Some players have a larger workload and play on both sides of the ball.
“We just got tired as the game went on,” Upham said.
“We had a lot of guys going both ways, taking a lot of snaps and I’ve just got to do a better job and get our guys ready to play late in the games.”
There were some bright spots, some hope to hang on to and provide confidence moving forward.
Before the half, the Braves had several big stops on third and fourth down.
“I thought we were really good on third down tonight,” Upham said. “We did some great things. Defensively I was happy with the way we played in the first half.”
Chance Sheldon-Allen blocked a Bozeman field goal attempt in the second quarter. That momentum carried over to the second half and the Braves started well, with Sheldon-Allen completing a 29-yard pass.
“Chance is gonna take a lot of snaps for us,” Upham said. “He’s a great kid and a great football player.”
Sheldon-Allen is Flathead’s utility player of sorts, returning kicks, catching passes and making defensive plays. He caught three passes for a team-high 36 yards and had 62 yards on kick returns for 105 total. He also rushed for seven yards.
Quarterback Cooper Smith completed six passes for 66 yards with one interception and rushed for 22 yards. It’s Smith’s first year starting at the quarterback position.
“He took his lumps but he made some great plays,” Upham said. “He had some great runs on third down early in the game that I thought was just fantastic. He had a nice throw to Chance on the sideline to start the half out. He’s gonna be just fine. We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and get him in a position where we can get him more successful.”
Bozeman QB Jake D’Agostino led all players with 172 yards rushing and threw for 118 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked once.
Flathead next plays Billings West on Friday at 7 p.m. in a rematch of last season’s title game in Billings at Daylis Stadium.
Asked what he remembered about West from last year, Upham replied: “That they’re good. And physical.”
And about his first game as head coach — “It was good. I’ll just get more comfortable as we get some more games.”
Bozeman 7 0 14 14 — 35
Flathead 0 0 0 0 — 0
BHS — Asher Croy 3 run (Alexander Swann kick)
BHS — Croy 9 run (Swann kick)
BHS — Carter Ash 34 run punt return (Swann kick)
BHS — Kenneth Eiden 17 pass from Jake D’Agostino (Swann kick)
BHS — D’Agostino 29 run (Swann kick)
First Downs 16 6
Rushing 40-274 34-49
Passing 8-14-118 6-16-66
Total offense 392 115
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-0
Penalties 10-00 9-69
Punts 5-143 11-336