PHILIPSBURG and CHARLO — When Flint Creek and Charlo kick off in a pivotal 8-Man West game on Friday, Mike Cutler will be on the Titans’ sideline and Mike Krahn on the Vikings’.
But ask the coaches, and they could switch spots and neither team would bat an eye.
“To be honest with you, I think they could come and run a week’s practice for us and we could do the same thing for them and probably not skip a beat,” said Cutler, who guided the Drummond-Philipsburg co-op of Flint Creek to the state championship last fall. “I mean that, because their expectations are so similar to ours. They run a little bit different scheme stuff, but we know what they do, and of course they surely know what we do. It’s a lot of fun.”
“Their kids and our kids are so similar and our approach to coaching, I’ve told our kids all week, ‘They’re doing the exact same things we’re doing.’ They’re not going to try to come up with something special for us, and we’re not going to come up with something special for them. We do what we do. We know what they do, and they know what we do,” confirmed Krahn, who has taken the Vikings to at least the quarterfinal round of the 8-Man playoffs each of the past three seasons.
“(Friday’s game is) going to come down to execution and then kind of trying to impose your will the best you can on that other team,” Krahn continued. “(Cutler’s) already said it, we could probably just switch sides and not miss a beat and know what’s going to happen.”
Yes, the coaches at Drummond-Philipsburg and Charlo are familiar with each other. They spend time together in the summer coaching in various all-state games. In June, Krahn was on Cutler’s staff for the Bob Cleverley 8-Man All-Star Game in Butte. Their Blue Team earned a 56-18 win over the Red Team.
“You end up being pretty good buddies,” Krahn said of coaching together. “It’s kind of like being brothers, you really want to beat your brother or your good friend. … You just have a mutual respect, but, man, you really want to win those games, so when you go next year to coach with them you’ve kind of got that one-up on them that you can kind of bring up every now and then and remind them.”
Cutler got the last win between the two coaches, as Drummond-Philipsburg defeated Charlo, 46-28, to win the conference championship last October. With home-field advantage throughout the 8-Man playoffs, the Titans won the first state title since forming the two-town co-op. Charlo handily won the 2016 matchup, though, and advanced to the championship game, losing an overtime thriller to Ennis.
Expectations are again high, as both teams have started the 2018 season with back-to-back double-digit wins. The Titans graduated Colton Grange from last year’s championship team but have a host of experienced, talented players back on the roster, including Colby Manley, Jaxon Lee, Riley Allen, Kane Hess and Luke Holland.
Charlo counters with one of the state’s best players in Landers Smith to go alongside Garett Vaughan, Isaiah Allik and Brock Tomlin, who is hopeful to play in Friday’s game after suffering an injury during the Vikings’ 36-16 win over Arlee last week. But the Vikings — whether by design or game flow — will likely go as far as Smith can go.
“There are some other weapons out there, for sure. Our game plan is to spread the ball around, and we get in games and sometimes Landers just takes over,” Krahn said. “It just works out that way. Ideally, we would like to limit him a little bit, just wear and tear on the body over the course of the season. Sometimes he’s just so hot that he kind of has a knack for taking over. When he does that, we just kind of let him go.”
“He’s a complete competitor, No. 1. He hates to lose. No. 2, he’s physically strong and fast and those types of things,” Cutler said of Smith. “And he’s an intelligent football player. He does what his coaching staff wants him to do, and he’s a team player. He’s all those things. In fact, we recognized him last year as our most notable opponent. We do that every year, and Landers won that by a landslide, because of how he plays, how respectful he is, sportsmanship, and all those types of things. We respect the heck out of Landers, but we’re going to get after him, as well.”
Both coaches expect a tough, physical game on Friday. While there might be schematic differences, both teams feature explosive offensives and sound defenses and share the same core building blocks: success, tradition and respect.
“Every time after the game, the loser is upset, but there’s hugs that go around and smiles that go around, and we always play a (junior varsity) game on the following Monday. It’s just a fantastic relationship,” Cutler said. “We want to beat the crap out of Charlo and they surely want to do the same to us, but we’ll do it in a respectful manner.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Philipsburg.