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NORTHWESTERN A FOOTBALL: Pirates reloaded, ready to defend

August 23, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference



NORTHWESTERN A FOOTBALL: Pirates reloaded, ready to defend

Northwest A data

2012 forecast

1. Polson (4) 16

2. Libby (1) 12

3. Frenchtown 11

4. Columbia Falls 6

5. Whitefish 5

(Predictions based on a compilation of votes by four of the league’s coaches. First-place votes in parentheses.)

2011 standings

League Overall

W L W L

Polson 4 0 8 1

Libby 3 1 5 5

Whitefish 2 2 5 4

Frenchtown 1 3 1 7

Columbia Falls 0 4 2 6

It was a new-look year for the Northwestern A football conference a season ago, with Frenchtown moving in from the Southwestern A and a lot of underclassmen on every team gaining on-field experience.

Polson head coach Scott Wilson believes the experience that teams gained last year will add even more parity to the league.

“Most of the teams last season were starting a lot of young kids and now that they have that year of experience, it’s going to make our league a lot tougher,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s squad took first in the conference last year, and were selected by the Northwestern A coaches to do the same this season even though they lost 11 starters to graduation.

The Pirates went undefeated in the regular season a year ago, putting up almost 40 points per game with an iron-curtain defense that only allowed six points per contest.

However, Polson’s unblemished regular season was soured by a playoff loss to Miles City in the quarterfinals.

Wilson said that while this year’s team might not have the same strengths as last season, he is confident in its ability to get things done.

“It’s hard to say we’re going to be able to put up the kind of numbers as last year because it really was a special season,” Wilson said. “But we have a lot of players who were able to gain experience last year, especially on defense.”

The Pirates lost three quarters of its defensive backfield, but bring back senior Will Davey, who earned all-state honors at strong safety last season.

Davey, who is also a running back, is the only returning skill player on the Pirates’ offense.

Wilson said he also plans to give significant carries to seniors Beau Mills and Taylor Pitts, who primarily played defense last season.

“We don’t have as much speed on offense as we did last year, but we’ve got some up-field, hard-nosed runners in Beau Mills and Taylor Pitts and they bring a look to our offense,” Wilson said.

Polson’s biggest strength might be in the trenches, where it has three returning all-state players in Riley Sampson, Eric Williamson and Dan LaFranier.

Wilson said what impresses him the most about this group of linemen is that they are not only big bodies, but they are great athletes as well.

“All three are multiple-sport athletes that move very well for their size,” Wilson said. “They have great feet and quickness that allows them to get into great position on a consistent basis.”

The Pirates are still without a definitive starter at quarterback, with juniors Brady Hislop and Andrew Weltz battling to replace three-time all-state signal caller Vince DiGiallonardo.

Wilson said the decision will be made after the team’s final scrimmage on Friday.

The Libby Loggers took second in the league last year and are in the same slot in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Coach Neil Fuller is happy with his team’s passing ability on offense, led by quarterback Jared Winslow.

“Jared does a great job leading us because he has a great attitude and is very athletic,” Fuller said. “We’ve looked great in camp passing the ball but we’re working hard to achieve a balance on offense.”

Libby features a stable of four running backs that will carry the ball this season, led by DJ Maefau and Marcel Getz.

Wideout Lane Lusher will be Winslow’s primary target on offense and starts at defensive back as well.

Frenchtown will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign in which they only won one game and took fourth in the conference.

“I think Frenchtown is going to be back this season,” Wilson said. “They had a lot of young kids playing last year and that year of experience will really help them out.”

Kyle Rausch replaces Steve Pinsoneault as head coach for the Broncs after five years as an assistant.

His squad is returning 15 starters, most notably 13 players who started at some point last year on offense.

Seniors Dan Lebsock, an honorable mention all-conference running back last fall, and David Anderson will receive most of the carries for the Broncs.

Junior John Chapman will be under center again for Frenchtown, which averaged just under six points a game last season.

The Whitefish Bulldogs also return a wealth of experience, bringing back 13 lettermen and only losing seven starters.

Although they will be starting a freshman, Luke May, at quarterback, third-year coach Chad Ross is confident in the athleticism of his skill players.

Senior Logan Harwood, a two-time all-conference performer, will lead the receiving corps of the Bulldogs’ high-powered passing attack.

“They are simply a great passing team,” Wilson said. “I know they are starting a young kid at quarterback but I’m sure he’ll get broken in fast.”

Columbia Falls finished winless in the conference last season but are looking to turn things around under new head coach Jackson Schweikert.

“I think (Schweikert) is going to do a great job,” Wilson said. “But they will have a lot of inexperienced players playing in a new system, so it seems like kind of a rebuilding year for them.”

 

SOUTHWESTERN A FOOTBALL: Young Stevi squad looks to challenge Dillon

 

Southwest A data

2012 Forecast

1. Dillon (4) 20

2. Stevensville (1) 15

3. Hamilton 13

(tie) Butte Central 13

5. Corvallis 8

6. Anaconda 6

(First-place votes in parentheses. Points based on a compilation of votes by league coaches.)

2011 final standings

League Overall

W L W L

Dillon 5 0 11 0

Stevensville 3 2 7 3

Hamilton 3 2 5 6

Butte Central 2 3 4 5

Corvallis 2 3 3 5

Anaconda 0 5 0 8

The good thing about underclassmen is that they grow up to be upperclassmen.

The seasoned but still young Stevensville Yellowjackets should reap those rewards for at least this year and perhaps beyond. Stevi is the pick of the Southwestern A coaches to challenge defending state champ and perennial power Dillon for the league crown. The Beavers remain the prohibitive favorites.

Coach Hank Praast’s Stevi club finished at 7-3 last season, falling in the State A quarterfinals to Billings Central. The Jackets lost just five starters from that team and return 15 lettermen who will have a year of playoff experience under their belts.

“I think it was a huge deal for us because so many sophomores were playing key roles,” Praast said of the success his team enjoyed last season. “And we’ll rely on them to be key players this year. Even in the Billings Central game when we came up short, they played well.”

The Jackets will need to clean up one bugaboo that cost them last season.

“I think we just have to – and I know it sounds cliche – take care of the football,” Praast said. “In the Dillon game we turned the ball over five times and four were our fault. In the Billings game we had five turnovers. We’ve really been concentrating on that in fall camp – we have to cherish that football.”

On Tuesday, Praast named junior Jared Schultz as his starting quarterback to trigger his spread offense.

“He’s really athletic,” Praast said. “You give him a play but he hasn’t made a decision about where he’s going with the football. He’s a really smart kid, too.”

Schultz won the job over junior Chris Bergman, who will now move back to wide receiver.

“We upgraded our receiving corps by him moving back,” Praast said.

Kyle Behner, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior, will be the starting running back. Jake Bartschi, a 5-8, 155-pound junior, will also get carries.

“They’re polar opposites,” Praast said. “Behner’s the starter and he’s our between-the-tackles guy. He’s our strong-side linebacker and looks the part. Bartschi, we’ll get him on the edge. He has super quick feet. We have thunder and lightning with those two kids.”

Praast also plans to exploit a tall receiving corps that boasts four players better than 6-feet tall, led by 6-4 sophomore Jesse Sims.

“He’s worked pretty hard,” Praast said of Sims. “He’s up to 225 pounds. He will be a heckuva football player. We’ll play him at tight end, wide receiver, slotback, fullback. That’s one of those rarities. You get one of those kids once in a lifetime.”

His running mates will be 6-4 junior Zach Gavlak, 6-1 junior Chance Coleman and the 6-1 Bergman.

“We teach our quarterback to throw high,” Praast said. “All four of them can dunk a basketball. If it’s not 9-feet high it’s not a good throw.”

Praast knows the Jackets will have their work cut out for them to knock Dillon from its spot atop the standings.

“Until someone can go to Dillon and beat them, they are what they are,” Praast said. “Hamilton, they’re going to throw the ball. Travis Blome’s got that thing humming. Butte Central has a great coaching staff. Give them lemons and they’ll make lemonade. Every weekend will be a show.”

Dillon lost league MVPs J.T. Linder at quarterback and lineman-linebacker Zeke Koslosky, but returns six starters on both sides of the ball. Junior Ben Folsom will take over at quarterback. Last season Folson had 924 yards receiving, 344 yards rushing and 663 yards passing for veteran coach Terry Thomas. All-state wide receiver Austin Carver returns, as does all-state tackle Caleb Gillis, a 6-6, 220-pound senior.

Blome guided Hamilton to a 5-6 record and a spot in the state quarterfinals in his first year at the helm of the Broncs. He’ll look to junior Josh Bauder, a second-team all-conference pick last year, to trigger the offense. His main targets will be seniors Hunter Kerr and Dillon Pigman, and juniors Kris Cleveland and Teague Blome. Matt Turley returns at running back.

“Top to bottom, we have a very tough league,” Blome said.

Corvallis returns 20 lettermen, but just four starters on each side of the ball from a team that finished 3-5 for coach Russ Hendrickson, who begins his seventh season with the Blue Devils.

Corvallis has a solid senior class, led by quarterback Branden Butt, who draws praise from Hendrickson for his leadership. Classmate Blake Sylvester returns at running back and safety, along with Tucker Neville on both lines. Another senior, 6-3, 225-pound Austin Gagnon, transferred in from Washington state and will help anchor the lines.

“We are more balanced this year in our skill back positions and have two new running backs that we hope can continue to execute our run game well,” Hendrickson said of sophomores Jaron Mills and Ryan Lewis. “Our biggest strength is the attitude and commitment of our players. Our weakness will be having to replace our offensive line and two all-state running backs.”

Don Peoples begins his 24th year at the helm of the Butte Central Maroons, who return nine starters on both sides of the ball. Junior tight end-defensive end Connor McGree was first team all-conference last season. Honorable mention picks Frank Joyce (C-DT), Connor Schulte (G-DT), Kale Guldseth (WR-CB), Brady Tippett (QB-FS) and Northey Tretheway (CB-WR) also return.


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