MISSOULA — The Missoula Big Sky Eagles came into their final game of the regular season as a run-first offense. On Thursday night they flexed their muscles on the ground as they raced past Kalispell Flathead in the second half to 60-41 win to secure a spot in the Class AA state football playoffs.
Coming into Thursday's game, there were interesting playoff scenarios dependent on the outcome of two games. If Big Sky (1-5) beat Flathead (0-6), Big Sky advances. If Flathead won by more than 12 points and Helena Capital beat Missoula Hellgate on Friday night, Flathead would be in.
In the first half, those playoff scenarios looked pretty interesting as Flathead was giving the Eagles problems.
On the first drive of the game, Big Sky marched down the field, ending in a quarterback run for Colter Janacaro. However, Flathead responded to every Big Sky score in the first half as the Braves were able to snap off big-time plays.
In the final three minutes of the first half, both teams scored touchdowns to go into the locker room tied at 27.
In the second half, the Eagles continued that aggressive run attack while the Flathead offense sputtered.
Big Sky came out of the half scoring two touchdowns on two consecutive drives to take a commanding 41-27 lead.
But Flathead was able to find big plays all night to keep close. In the fourth quarter, Flathead quarterback Charlie Hinchey connected on two 30-plus-yard passing touchdowns, but Janacaro kept the Eagles in a good spot.
In the final minutes of the game, every time Flathead pulled within a score, Janacaro seemed to find the end zone again. He finished the night with six rushing touchdowns and two passing for a total of eight scores. The eight touchdowns land Janacaro tied for second on the 11-man football record list for scores in a single game. Bo Hughes (Missoula Loyola) had nine in 2012, while Dallas Cooke (Butte) and Sean Walsh (Butte Central) have rushed for eight in 2013 and 1991, respectively.
Janacaro finished the game with 28 carries for 272 yards and went 17 for 22 in the air for 162 yards. Hunter Meinzen added nine carries for 30 yards and a score.
"I would say how we never gave up, how we ran the ball (Thursday)," said Janacaro. "I think the defense could use a lot of work, they put up 40 points, so yeah, that’s not good."
However, coach Matt Johnson was extremely happy with how the offense controlled the game.
"I thought our kids did an excellent job of staying focused on the goal and understanding that a couple of run plays will only get a couple of yards, but they just stayed with it and made simple adjustments," said Johnson. "So offensively, really happy with that."
Flathead's Alec Thomas also had an impressive performance on the ground, wracking up 159 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Hinchey finished the night going 7 for 17 with 204 yards, three scores and two interceptions.
With the win, Big Sky (2-5) will travel east to take on either the Bozeman Hawks (4-1) or the Billings Senior Broncs (5-1) next week in the first round of the playoffs.