KALISPELL – This is the biggest week of the year for high school football, and it’s the biggest week in 18 years for the Kalispell Flathead Braves. The program is making its first trip to the Class AA state championship since 2000.
The Braves last won a title even further back in 1970, before some of the current players’ parents were born. This fall, Flathead earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs for a second consecutive year, but this time the Braves put together two outstanding performances, blowing past Billings Senior in the first round and upsetting Bozeman in the semifinals.
The longterm plan is all starting to come together for coach Kyle Samson’s Braves.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Samson. “It’s something we take a lot of pride in. When I got here five years ago with our staff, it was something that was our goal. We wanted to turn this program around. We wanted to build a championship culture. We feel like all of our hard work is paying off.”
“The city of Kalispell over the last 10 years, it’s pretty much been about Glacier, and Glacier is such a good school,” said quarterback/defensive back Jaden MacNeil. “It’s just cool to see how Flathead’s long legacy is able to rebuild. And now we’re the school of Kalispell now.”
The Braves might have expected to make it to this point, but not many around the state thought they’d survive the semifinals.
Flathead traveled to undefeated, top-seeded Bozeman. The Hawks had already beaten Flathead 49-34 earlier in the year. But on a cold night, the Braves shut down the high-powered Bozeman offense. They took the lead for good late in the fourth quarter, and hung on for a 21-17 victory.
“We lost to them earlier,” said Samson. “And we just thought, ‘Hey, what a great opportunity. We get a chance to avenge a loss that we had previously in the season.’ And we believed. I think that’s a big reason why we won the game, our kids believed. They weren’t afraid of the moment.”
“We’re really big on the fourth quarter,” added MacNeil. “So I knew once we put our hands up, ‘Four,’ and the score was close, I knew we could dominate the fourth quarter and come out with the win.”
“All the hard work was just building up to that moment in deep playoff games,” said safety/wide receiver Logan Siblerud. “So yeah, we’re just super confident with our preparation. And we just knew we had a good shot.”
The Braves also lost to Billings West 42-20 earlier in the season, and now make the long trip to the highly ranked Golden Bears. So of course, Flathead expects the same result.
They’ll kick off the state championship game at 7 p.m. Friday night at Daylis Stadium.