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Eureka, Bigfork reload in chase of Falcons

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | September 2, 2021 10:08 PM

The Eureka Lions have been a power in the Western B and Class B football landscape for a while now, with three state championships in the last five years.

A talented, veteran team in Florence may have something to say about the Lions’ return to the top, unless — and this isn’t a reach — they end up on opposite sides of the Class B playoff bracket.

Until then, the retooled Lions will keep charging.

“We do have kind of a balanced attack,” Eureka coach Trevor Utter said. “Whereas last year it was, ‘Get the ball to Gunnar. “

Gunnar Smith graduated leaving the Lions with juniors Tyson Brouillette and Remington Little in the backfield alongside quarterback Caleb Utter. Each junior had 16 carries in Eureka’s opening 14-13 win over Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

“Couldn’t get any more balanced than that,” Trevor Utter said.

Danny Dunn, Joey Kindel and John Grieve give the younger Utter three solid receivers and there is plenty of leadership up front, like four-year starting center Gavin Pilkington and defensive end/guard Johnny Fehr.

Florence is positively loaded, from quarterback Patrick Duchien on down. The Falcons advanced to the B semifinals in 2020, losing 8-6 at Fairfield (which in turn lost the title game to Manhattan).

Bigfork and Whitehall -- the Trojans, quarterfinalists last year, move over from the Southern B while Deer Lodge is again playing a JV schedule — figure to be in the hunt for the last two Western playoff spots.

Like Eureka, the Vikings also lost a workhorse running back to graduation: Cormac Benn. But head coach Jim Benn figures with George Bucklin running inside and Joseph Farrier outside behind a huge front line, his team won’t be much different.

Tackles Braeden Guse (287 pounds) and Tre Rodriguez (305) and center (George Brown (305) set the course.

“They’re big fellas, but I think collectively they’ve cut about 100 pounds,” Benn said. “They’ve had a great summer. For guys that are pushing 300 pounds they move really, really well.”

That’s not to say senior quarterback Patrick Wallen doesn’t have targets in Isak Epperly and Dane Hansen.

“The forward pass will come to Bigfork,” Benn allowed. “We’ll run shotgun formation at times. But we’re still going to be a run-heavy team.”

Half the Western B played last week: Missoula Loyola beat Cut Bank 14-13 and Anaconda fell to Salmon River, Idaho 26-14.

The Vikings start their season tonight at Cut Bank, while the Lions head over to Conrad.

“We have a couple kids to replace but have 13 who’ve played a ton of varsity football,” Utter said of his Lions. “We’ve got some good tests coming up: Conrad this week and Fairfield next. That will be a very good barometer to see where we are.”

Prediction

Florence

Eureka

Bigfork

Whitehall

Missoula Loyola

Anaconda

Players to watch:

Ethan Abbott, OL, Florence; Jordan Betts, OL, Bigfork; Nathan Blodnick, KR/WR, Anaconda; Patrick Duchien, QB, Florence; Danny Dunn, LB/TE, Eureka; Johnny Fehr, OL/DL, Eureka; Cory Galle, QB, Anaconda; Bryce Gilliard, LB, Bigfork; Braeden Guse, OL, Bigfork; Miles Hoerauf, LB, Whitehall; Joey Kindel, WR, Eureka; Remington Little, LB, Eureka; Luke Maki, TE, Florence; Jeron McNair, OL, Florence; Gavin Pilkington, OL/DL, Eureka; Levi Posey, WR, Florence; Tristan Pyette, RB, Florence; Tre Rodriguez, OL, Bigfork; Blake Shoupe, LB, Florence; Keenan Russell, Ath, Loyola; Tommy Sawyer, WR, Anaconda; Leo Scafani, OL, Whitehall; Tucker Smith, LB, Eureka; Levi Taylor, RB/LB, Bigfork; Caleb Utter, QB, Eureka; Brendan Wagner, KR/PR, Whitehall; Caden Zaluski, DB/K, Florence.

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