FLORENCE — This past week in western Montana fell like fall football weather with cooler temperatures and the smoke clearing out of the sky. Perfect timing, as high school teams across the state are in the middle of practicing and prepping for their first games of the season.
The Florence-Carlton Falcons are among them, as Florence is gearing up to have another big year in Class B football.
The Falcons finished last year 8-2. After losing their opener to Manhattan, Florence won eight straight games before losing a close 8-6 game to Fairfield in the Class B semifinals. But now, it's full-steam ahead for Florence.
"Everything’s been going pretty good this year," senior receiver/safety Blake Shoupe said. "We’re really excited that we returned a lot of our corps, only lost seven seniors, but we’re just really excited to get it going. Looking forward to Manhattan first week, had a really good game with them last year, and looking forward to everything."
While last year's team only had seven seniors, the core majority of Florence's team was juniors or younger.
Players like Shoupe, receiver/safety Levi Posey, tight end/linebacker Luke Maki, quarterback/defensive back Patrick Duchien, running back/linebacker Tristan Pyette, offensive and defensive lineman Ethan Abbott and receiver/defensive back Caden Zaluski are all back, and the Falcons could very easily be contenders once again thanks to that returning group. Each player earned either all-state or all-conference honors in 2020, and Abbott is one of the state's top high school football prospects, and currently holds offers from both Montana and Montana State.
"We got a lot of juice coming into the two-a-days this week, we’re just excited to play," Shoupe said. "We just want to go 1-0 each week. Not looking at anything else but the week that we got."
This season could be a special one for Florence as well if they make another deep playoff run. According to the MHSA, the 2021 Class B football playoff bracket has the top seed from the Class B West as the team that will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs all the way to the state championship game.
The Falcons also want to continue the tradition of readying their younger, more inexperienced players, so when the time comes they're ready to continue this trend of success.
Back in 2017, Florence barely made the playoffs, and have been on an upward trajectory ever since.
"I think part of it comes from incoming freshmen and challenging us and becoming better and listening to us," Posey said. "We’ve worked harder every year, we’ve gotten stronger, and we haven’t forgotten how we’ve been trained."
Now, Florence's 11 seniors who grew up together are ready to cap off their high school runs in a big way. Abbott, Maki, Posey, Pyette, Shoupe, Zaluski, Jeron McNair, Dylan Meidinger, Jared Pallo, Jace Pedersen and Kaiden Taylor are the team's seniors in 2021.
"It feels like that was yesterday we were freshmen and now we’re here you know?" Posey said. "And we’ve been together since we were in eighth grade and it’s just nice to be together and be older and be in this spot."
"It’s going to be emotional because at the end of the day we had guys bought in to this, our 406 culture, and it takes a while to build it," head coach Pat Duchien added. "It takes a while to get everybody involved but these guys are really going to be the class that are truly, truly finish burying the seed to keep this culture going for years down the road."
Florence will open up its season on Sept. 3 at Manhattan in a rematch of last year’s opener, in which the Tigers got the best of the Falcons in an overtime thriller.