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Flathead, Glacier meet for 14th time in crosstown clash

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | October 15, 2020 12:00 AM

The 14th crosstown football battle between Flathead and Glacier may not look awesome on paper, but these games are less predictable than others under the Friday Night Lights.

Glacier holds the series lead 9-4, but Flathead surged a couple years ago and won two straight — so though the Braves are 0-5 this season, the 4-1 Wolfpack had better buckle those chinstraps.

“It’s crosstown, so really truly — I know it’s cliche — you throw the records out,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. “Because of the emotion and the kids knowing each other … anything can happen.”

Both teams are coming off losses: Flathead lost to Butte 42-13, and Glacier fell at Helena High 34-14. They’ll try to turn it around tonight at 7 at Legends Stadium.

“I think we’re ready to go,” Flathead coach Matt Upham said. “We’ve just got to get the little things cleaned up — block better, tackle harder and convert on third down.”

The Braves are led on offense by quarterback Charlie Hinchey and running back Alec Thomas. A year ago Thomas was a standout linebacker for Glacier. The 205-pound senior still plays ’backer — he leads Flathead with 52 tackles — but he’s also put together a couple 100-yard rushing games, including 140 last week.

“He’s getting better and better,” Bennett noted. “He’s a great football player — he was one of the best players in our program, so there was no question he was going to go over there and be one of their best players, right away.”

“Alec is a great kid,” added Upham. “He’s not making the game bigger than it needs to be. He’s just focusing on his job.”

There are other Braves that stick out, like safety Ryan Nelson, Tommy Wells at receiver and linebacker Nolan White.

“Nolan White had his best game for us last week,” Upham said. “Two forced fumbles and an interception. Tommy Wells caught some crucial third downs and had some big catches — not a lot of yards, but he’s been the best, steady wide receiver.”

“They’re very capable on both sides of the ball, and it’s just a matter of putting it together,” Bennett said. “We need to do everything we can so they don’t put it together.”

Glacier, of course, is led by 230-pound junior running back Jake Rendina, who piled up another 170 yards last week against Helena’s talented front seven. That and other factors left Bennett encouraged despite the loss.

“I was really happy with how we did, still, running the ball,” he said. “We had a hard time protecting the quarterback and passing the ball, but aside from a couple turnovers — I don’t know if the score indicated what kind of game we played.

”It was a heck of a game, physically and mentally. You tip your hat and hopefully you learn from it.”

Rendina’s rushing totals of 937 yards and 20 touchdowns far and away lead Class AA. JT Allen is a capable quarterback and has plenty of targets, including tight ends Luke Bilau and Ethan Diede.

Bennett was happy with the play of corner Casey Peiffer against pass-happy Helena.

“He was pretty solid in coverage. Hopefully he can continue to do that,” Bennett said. “And Rocco Beccari, man, he’s just a good player for us on both sides of the line. We struggled up front (against Helena), but he was our rock.”

There are two weeks left in this truncated, seven-week regular season.

“I just feel like we have to play our game,” Upham said. “And let the chips fall where they may.”

Other showdowns

There’s a big game tonight not far from Legends in Columbia Falls, where the Wildcats host Frenchtown in a battle of 5-2 Western A teams. With Hamilton (7-0, at 5-2 Libby tonight) and Dillon (6-1, hosting Ronan) at the top of the league, a win would guarantee one of the league’s four playoff berths.

Down in Missoula, the top-ranked Sentinel Spartans play host to Helena in a battle of unbeatens.