Two teams on somewhat divergent paths this season will converge tonight under the lights at Legends Stadium for Western AA crosstown football.
The Flathead Braves and the Glacier Wolfpack will kick off at 7 p.m.
“You hope that for the fans that the teams are playing their best and that it’s a great football game,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said.
In crosstown, sometimes doesn’t matter who’s having the better season. This year, that would be Glacier. Last year it was Flathead, en route to the state title game.
“It’s not about the record, you can throw that out,” Flathead coach Matt Upham said.
“It’s about who shows up and plays 48 minutes.”
Last year, the Braves topped the Wolfpack in a classic, 28-27, for a second consecutive crosstown victory. The season series is 8-4 in Glacier’s favor.
It took a few weeks for the Braves to get in the win column, a 13-9 upset of Helena High in Week 6 of the season.
They’ve had a tough schedule against some of the top teams in the conference, opening the season against Bozeman, now No. 1 in the East.
Last week Flathead ran into a buzzsaw in the undefeated Butte Bulldogs, new to the Western division and now at the top of it.
Flathead (1-5 conference, 1-6 overall) came within a touchdown of Helena Capital in Week 5.
“We’ve been climbing and we’ve had our battles and had some chances to win,” Upham said.
Right now Upham is focused on preparing for the Wolfpack’s attack.
“They want to put the ball down the field with Drew Deck,” Upham said. “They’ve got a great young running back in [Jake Rendina].”
Getting points on the board, which Flathead has struggled with at times this season, will be key.
The Braves have been shut out three times, most recently against Butte.
“Offensively, we’ve got to move the ball down the field,” Upham said. “If we do that, we have a good chance.”
Glacier started off the season well with a nonconference win against BIllings Skyview, where Rendina scored three touchdowns.
In Week 2, the Wolfpack was edged 38-35 by Mount Spokane in the first of three straight losses, including one to Helena Capital, where Glacier scored 19 points in the fourth quarter in a comeback attempt.
Glacier (2-3, 3-4) won the next two games, starting with a dominant 63-35 rout of Missoula Big Sky where it amassed 538 total yards.
Last week, the Wolfpack lost 20-6 to Helena.
Aside from the loss to Helena, Glacier doesn’t seem to have struggle with putting points on the board and are a late-game comeback threat.
“I really feel like we turned a corner and we’re making strides,” Bennett said. “Last week was a bit of a step back, but defense has grown week after week. Special teams are strong. I feel like we’re an improving team as well as we come down the stretch.”
Bennett is mindful of Flathead’s weapons.
He mentioned Flathead defensive lineman Tanner Russell as one: “He’s got a motor, so much heart, so much desire ... He’s all over the field.”
Record aside, Flathead’s sheer determination is worth noting.
“The thing that sticks out is that they’re a team that gives great effort,” Bennett said. “They fight like heck until the buzzer goes off.”