Two Northwestern A football teams will get a jump on the rest of the league this weekend.
Whitefish will kick things off with a 2 p.m. contest versus Havre.
Libby entertains Bonners Ferry, Idaho, in a evening matchup that begins at 7.
Columbia Falls, Frenchtown and Libby will begin their season the following weekend.
Here is a look at the four local teams from Northwestern A in our coverage area.
By STEVE HAMEL
The Daily Inter Lake
The Whitefish High School football team enjoyed a bounce-back season a year ago, rebounding from a 1-7 finish the year before to go 5-3 in the regular season before losing to Stevensville in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
This year’s Bulldogs return seven offensive starters and seven defensive starters from last year’s playoff team, and third-year head coach Chad Ross believes this year’s squad will be his strongest yet.
“I have pretty high expectations going into the season as long as we can stay healthy,” Ross said. “Both offensively and defensively we’re further along than we’ve been in awhile.”
While he’s confident in his starters, Ross said depth is a concern.
“Like a lot of small schools, we’re not very deep. We’ve got some good kids, they just haven’t played a lot.”
Whitefish returns four senior starters to its offensive line, which Ross said should be the team’s strength. Six-foot, 230-pound guard Jake May and 6-5, 255-pound tackle Wolf Zinke each earned all-conference honorable mentions a year ago, while 6-0, 180-pound Auston Bergeson and 5-11, 180-pound Dakota Beatty also bring starting experience.
Ross said that experience will be critical since Whitefish needs to replace graduated quarterback Connor Donahue.
Sophomore James Bailey and freshman Luke May are vying for the starting job under center, and while Ross said he’s confident in both young signal-callers, he’s glad they’ll be playing behind an experienced line.
“If I had both a young line and a young quarterback I would be more concerned,” he said.
The quarterbacks also have the luxury of an experienced target in first-team all-conference wide receiver Logan Harwood.
Another strength is the team’s speed on both sides of the ball.
“This is the fastest team we’ve had in the three years I’ve been here,” Ross said.
Junior tailback Sean Foley and senior fullback Shane Marcial will handle rushing duties. Marcial was an all-conference honorable mention at fullback last season while Foley is new to the offense after starting at cornerback a year ago.
“With our younger quarterbacks, we hope to establish a little bit more of a running game,” Ross said. “We still have the ability to throw. We’ll see what happens when we get in game situations.”
Defensively, Whitefish has standouts in the front seven, but it’s depth lies in the secondary. Marcial, Foley and Harwood all saw significant playing time last year, and the trio will once again be counted on to limit big plays.
Junior linebacker Calub Thilmony will lead the defense’s second level after earning an all-conference honorable mention last season.
“He’s one of our strongest kids,” Ross said. “He’ll be the real anchor of our linebacking crew.”
Zinke, Beatty and Jake May will lead the defensive line.
Ross hopes his experienced squad will challenge for the league title, but he admits they’ll be chasing Polson, which he sees as the team to beat. Polson went 8-1 last season and was 4-0 in the Northwestern A conference.
Whitefish opens its season at home against Havre today at 2 p.m. Havre defeated the Bulldogs 54-25 last season.
2012 Whitefish Football Schedule
Aug. 25 — Havre, 2 p.m.
Aug. 31 — at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at Browning, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — vs Hardin at Butte, 2 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Libby, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Polson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — Columbia Falls, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Belgrade, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Frenchtown, 7 p.m.
Columbia Falls Wildcats
By STEVE HAMEL
The Daily Inter Lake
Columbia Falls football will have a new look this season.
New head coach Jaxon Schweikert, who arrived in Columbia Falls after spending four years as a head football coach in Mount Vernon, Wash., is installing a no-huddle spread offense and a zone-blocking scheme. While the system is radically different from what the Wildcats are used to, Schweikert said his players have done well adapting to the new concepts.
“I think they’re doing a good job,” Schweikert said.
“With us it’s all about attention to detail. We have so many practices, and it’s our job to teach the details to make it work. I anticipate the kids to do a good job on it.”
Last season the Wildcats’ offense only eclipsed 20 points once during a 1-7 season, 0-4 in Northwestern A, but Schweikert said his team has a positive attitude heading into the fall.
“They’re working hard every day and they’re getting a lot better,” he said.
The Wildcats have just nine seniors and will rely on several sophomores and juniors in critical roles.
Schweikert said he expects his skill position players to be the strength of the offense.
Five-foot-11, 187-pound junior running back Zach Darling has looked good in practice and senior wide receiver Colin King, and junior receivers Alex Presnell and Dyllon Parker are all poised to make an impact in the spread scheme, Schweikert said.
“We’ve got good speed at the inside slot receivers and running back,” he said.
“Our outside receivers are more quick than fast, but that’s good, because they are really good in and out of their breaks and they run really good routes.”
Schweikert said his team has average size along the offensive line, which is adapting well to the zone concepts the coaching staff has been teaching.
At quarterback, 6-4 junior Jared Trinastich and 5-9 sophomore Ty Morgan are competing to replace last year’s second-team all-conference signal-caller Austin Barth, who is a freshman on Montana State’s football team.
Defensively, Schweikert is looking to develop depth behind his starters.
“Our starting 11 is going to be a pretty good crew, but we don’t have a lot of depth,” he said.
“I think our skill kids cover really well and our linebacking crew is really solid.”
Sophomore safety Colton Gove and junior safety Josiah Osborne have both impressed the new coach in practice, as have cornerbacks Parker, King and Presnell.
Six-foot, 215-pound linebacker Mike Sandefer will bring a physical presence to the middle of the defense, as will Darling, who will start at the Sam linebacker position.
Many position battles are still brewing on the defensive line, but Schweikert hopes to see some players step up as they get closer to the season opener.
2012 Columbia Falls Football Schedule
Aug. 31 — at Corvallis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at Stevensville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — Browning, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Polson, 7 p.m .
Sept. 28 — Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Whitefish, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Frenchtown, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — Libby, 7 p.m.
By JOSEPH TERRY
The Daily Inter Lake
Lacking size, the Libby football team has turned to speed.
The Loggers, who kick off the season today at home against Bonners Ferry, Idaho, return a wealth of talent from a team that went 5-5 and got bumped from the first round of the playoffs last season.
“We’ll play very aggressively, but we’re going to have to play smart football,” Libby coach Neil Fuller said.
“(We need to play) good-sound, fundamental-assignment football and we should be in pretty good shape.”
Fuller, who is entering his 10th season as the Loggers coach, said the team will try to run a more balanced offense
The offense returns quarterback Jared Winslow and wide receivers Lane Luscher, Danny Leggins and Will Reichel.
“We’re going to have to play more finesse football offensively,” Fuller said.
“We’re going to try to be as balanced as we can. We’re definitely going to be able to throw the football but we’d like to be able develop a little more of a running game this year.”
Libby is young up front but should make up for it with team speed and athleticism.
“In the secondary and at linebacker we have kids that can run, that have good quickness,” Fuller said. “We’re going to have to rely on that with our lack of size.”
The defense will be led by Craig Nelson on the line, and will need help from some of the younger players, including junior lineman Tarasik Krisanov.
“(Krisanov’s) a lineman that has matured a lot from last year,” Fuller said. “We need him to play some pretty good football up front for us.”
As for today’s game, the Loggers got a preview of the Bonners Ferry squad when they met at a camp at Montana Western this summer.
“We got to butt heads with them,” Fuller said. “They have good athletes. I think we match up with them well, at least from what I saw at camp. We should have a lot of fun. It will be a good challenge for us.”
2012 Libby Football Schedule
Aug. 25 — Bonners Ferry, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — at Browning, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — Corvallis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — Stevensville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Whitefish, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — Frenchtown, 7 p.m. (Homecoming)
Oct. 5 — at Havre, 6 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Polson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Columbia Falls, 7 p.m.
By JOSEPH TERRY
The Daily Inter Lake
Polson football put up big points on the way to an unbeaten regular season in 2011. But a tough matchup in the playoffs ended the season abruptly. While a lot of talent left, the expectations are just as high for the Pirates, who are once again picked as the favorite in the Northwestern A.
“We definitely want to be one of the top teams,” Polson coach Scott Wilson said. “The league is going to be more even. There were lot of young teams last year.”
On offense, the Pirates will need to replace three-year starter Vince DiGiallonardo at quarterback. Juniors Brady Hislop and Andrew Weltz are in a tight battle for the position, though there was little separation after Friday’s scrimmage.
“Unfortunately, I’m still in a dilemma,” Wilson said. “They both played real equal. I’m gonna watch some film this weekend and I’ll probably name a starter on Monday.”
The strength on both sides of the ball will be on the lines. The Pirates return three all-state linemen in Riley Sampson, Eric Williamson and Dan LaFranier. Along with running back Will Davey, the team’s only returner at a skill position, the team will look to lean on the running game early in the season.
“That’s going to be our strong point,” Wilson said.
On defense, the Pirates need to replace three of their four defensive backs but should be strong in the front seven.
“We have pretty good experience at linebacker coming back,” Wilson said. “I feel pretty confident going in at this point.”
While the first-team defense looked good at the scrimmage, Wilson said he thinks it still has a ways to go before getting to a comfortable level.
“I want to see a little bit more team pursuit out of them,” Wilson said. “Rather than just two or three guys on a tackle, I’d rather see six or seven.
“I think our key’s gonna be we just need some game experience.”
2012 Polson Football Schedule
Aug. 31 — Belgrade, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — at Anaconda, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Columbia Falls, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — Whitefish, 7 p.m. (Homecoming)
Oct. 5 — at Frenchtown, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Libby, 7 p.m.
Oc.t 18 — Browning, 7 p.m.