Saturday, September 19, 2020

Braves mix in new faces, aim higher in 2020

Daily Inter Lake | September 10, 2020 10:07 PM

The Flathead Braves fell off from their surprise run to the 2018 State AA championship game – a 20-14 loss to Billings West – to two wins last fall.

Add in a dearth of returning starters and maybe expectations aren’t very high for the Braves – which is fine with them. They’ll embrace the underdog role in Missoula, where they take on the high-powered Sentinel Spartans at 7 p.m. Friday at MCPS Stadium.

“It’s a normal week one game,” Flathead coach Matt Upham began, “except we’ve had a lot more time to get dialed in. You usually have such a mad dash, where you only have 11 real days to get ready before you play on the 12th.

“We’ve practiced for four weeks before we have a game – we’ve just got to shake the rust off and get ready to roll in Missoula, Montana on Friday night.”

The Braves elevated Charlie Hinchey to quarterback. He’s a 6-foot senior. He has skill kids around him and some big blockers up front.

“It’s going to be a plethora of running backs,” Upham, in his second year as head coach, said. Kaden Henshaw, a 195-pound junior, leads the group. Sophomore Trevor Burke (165 pounds) and senior Alec Thomas (205) are next in line.

The receiving group has Nic Gustafson, Robert Walker, Jackson Barrett and Tommy Wells. Walker is a sophomore; the rest are seniors.

“They’ve all had great summers, and they all catch the ball and get vertical,” Upham said. Hinchey – a first-year starter that Upham praises for his leadership – also has a pair of big tight ends to throw to in Joe Hansen and Gabe Adams.

Up front could be a strength, depending on health. Logan Lang had a strong sophomore season, and Upham likes that both guards – Timber Richberg is the other – are back from 2019. He mentioned JD Bennett as guard as well.

Luke Leech has moved to the front at right tackle while left tackle remained up in the air – Upham could go with either Elijah Owens and Kayden Berkey. Ethan Augeter is the leader at center.

There isn’t that much duplication on the defensive side, where Berkey is the lone starter up front. Andrew Carpenter and Tyven Stewart will figure in at nose guard; Berkey and Matthew Melby play defensive tackle. Four people mix in at defensive end: Zabin Stewart, Harley Marr, Brandon Lewis and Cael Olbert.

The linebacker corps looks to be a strength, led by 205-pound senior Nolan White in the middle, junior Chase Youso on the strong side and Thomas at the Will.

“They’re all pretty decent size,” Upham said. “All have great speed, and they are all really physical.”

The secondary is bolstered by Ryan Nelson, a 185-pound senior transfer from Washington; he and Burke are the safeties. The corners are Gustafson and junior Nate Prieto.

There’s talent, though on paper Sentinel looks very loaded: Several players, like quarterback Dayton Bay and receivers T.J. Rausch and (Frenchtown transfer) Jace Klucewich, were all-league last year.

“It will be a good test for us,” Upham allowed. “To be honest with you they’re good all over the field. Good receiving corps, the quarterback throws the ball well and their lines are real talented, too.

“They’re a very good team this year.”