ARLEE — It didn't take long for the Thompson Falls Blue Hawks to adapt to 8-Man football in Montana.
In just their second season in the 8-Man classification, the Blue Hawks have gone from fringe playoff team to undefeated powerhouse in 2020 after starting a dominant 5-0.
Thompson Falls dropped down from Class B 11-man football to 8-Man starting in the 2019 season. The Blue Hawks made the playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinal round last season in their first postseason action since 2015.
The taste of making the playoffs is the driving force behind this season's start.
“Making the playoffs last year was huge. Even getting the first win in 8-Man last year, these guys really were like, 'Oh wow, this is cool,' and they really picked it up," Thompson Falls head coach Jared Koskela said. "And then after that they were just having fun. They just go out there and have fun, everybody is clicking and it's just fun to see and watch."
"I think it's definitely the taste of the playoffs driving us forward, and also all of our seniors realizing it's our last season and we want to go full-go and do everything we can to get back to the playoffs and go as far as we can," senior quarterback and defensive back Roman Sparks added.
After winning a tight contest 38-32 against St. Ignatius to open the season, Thompson Falls has outscored its past four opponents 202-0, including a recent 52-0 win over Arlee. Thompson Falls also has wins over Alberton-Superior (42-0), Seeley-Swan (52-0) and Darby (56-0).
“Transitioning from 11-man to 8-Man, it wasn't easy at all just because everything was new," senior quarterback and defensive back Kade Pardee said. "Koskela worked really hard watching a lot of film and doing everything he could to make the transition easier for all of the players and be able understand what we got to do different. It was tough but it’s been pretty good for us so far.”
“I think it benefits us because 8-Man is a lot faster and we’re a fast team, and we’re not super big but we’re fast, though, and that’s what we like to do in 8-Man," Sparks added.
Pardee and Sparks are two of Thompson Falls' seven seniors, which also include twin brothers Lucas and Derek Andersen, Dane Chojnacky, William McPherson and Cody Burk. Pardee and Sparks run a dual-quarterback system, giving the Blue Hawks a pair of athletes to run the offense through while utilizing their other weapons to rack up points. The duo has combined for 21 touchdowns on the ground and more than 400 yards rushing each while Sparks has thrown for another 499 yards and six scores, which includes finding Pardee and each Andersen twin for two scores apiece. Lucas Andersen leads the team in receptions (12) and receiving yards (253).
Defensively, their work speaks for itself after going four straight games with shutouts. Against Arlee, the defense made life difficult from the start, getting pressure to the quarterback to stop any threats from the air while flying to the ball immediately when the Warriors ran the ball, stopping any movement or momentum for Arlee. Junior Trae Thilmony leads the Blue Hawk defense with 43 total tackles while Lucas Andersen paces them with six sacks.
Growing up in a tight-knit small-town community has been another theme for this year’s success. And Thompson Falls has no intention of slowing that success down with the regular season more than half over.
"These guys are really hungry," Koskela said. "We kind of worked our way up and were kind of the dark horse last year. We've got that same crew and they're hungry so that's why we kind of fed off of that and these guys just want it."
"We're all really good friends. We have a lot of good chemistry, we've grown up with each other since forever," Pardee added. "For us seniors, this is our last year and we want to prove to the whole state what we can do and it’s our last year we have to give it everything we got.”