FLORENCE — Back in 2020 when Florence lost to Fairfield in the Class B semifinals, little did people know how much that loss would be a catalyst for this program going forward.
And the rest is history as the Falcons are the two-time defending Class B state football champions and once again are one of the best teams in the state in 2023 at 6-0.
The question for Florence is how it keeps reloading after three successful seasons with plenty of talent having moved on.
The answer? Those up-and-comers in the program years ago were practicing and prepping against the best team in the state in their teammates, and now they get their turn.
"Our young guys every day do practice against what is the best team in the state day in and day out, and I'm a firm believer in that that really does prepare them for when their number is called," Florence defensive coordinator Adam Goodnight said. "The other thing is we've really been fortunate in having some high-scoring games where we're able to get our varsity off the field early so our young guys are getting good quality varsity reps against other good varsity teams.
"We demand perfection out of them, we demand that they meet the expectation every week, and for the most part they really have. We've had some slip-ups and we've made some mistakes, but that's to be expected. We get it corrected on film on Mondays and move on, but the kids are really, really bought in to what we coach. We want to be known for playing hard-nosed football here, and I think we're finally getting there."
Florence's varsity squad has played just one full game out of the six because they've been blowing opponents out, with Florence having out-scored teams 291-27, including five of the six games finishing as shutouts. Only one team has scored against Florence this season, that being Huntley Project, which Florence defeated 44-27 in the third game of the season.
"Our coaches put in a phenomenal game plan every week, and each week we look to execute that," senior offensive lineman and linebacker Harrison Shepp said. "Our coaches' expectations are so high that if a team scores, it's a defeat to us, so we just look forward to every down and trying to be the best we can be every play."
That drive and focus stems from this group's time watching the classes ahead of them lay the foundation for state championship approaches.
"In the JV games as freshmen and stuff, we played just as hard as varsity as in like being pushed and everything to be leaders, and we need to step up just as much," senior tight end, defensive end and quarterback Ethan Alexander said. "And so it was kind of just an easy transition from JV to varsity because we already had that pressure on us to be good and be great leaders."
Florence sports 11 seniors on the team this year, athletes who were freshmen when the Falcons dropped a heartbreaker to Fairfield in the 2020 semifinals.
Ever since, it's been nothing but success.
"It's been really fun actually," Shepp said. "Seeing our team lose in the semifinals obviously wasn't great as a freshman, but then helping build that team sophomore year, winning state and then last year being a starter for the first time and winning state felt phenomenal, too. And then now we're trying to win again, but it's to leave behind a culture that we've tried to make and build here."
Shepp and Alexander are joined by Ethan Porter, Tyler Abbott, Lance Burrows and Arie McLaughlin as the team's captains this year.
The Falcons' rise to Class B's elite has turned into an annual outcome, and it's been special for everyone along the way as they have their eyes to big matchups with Eureka and Missoula Loyola and eventually the postseason. Florence hosts Eureka this Friday in a battle of No. 1 versus No. 2 in the latest MontanaSports.com rankings.
"It's pretty awesome and the fact that we're doing it out here as seniors, we had seen everybody else in front of us do it and we just wanted to be that same way and go out there and push ourselves to be that way," Alexander said.