2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
August 29, 2014Northwest Montana A Conference
Football squad reloads for another season
Ready to rumble
Wildcat Stephen Lindsey runs the ball during practice.
Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
The Columbia Falls football team has some big shoes to fill this season, but it also has some young talent ready for the task.
The Wildcats lost running back Zach Darling and all-state quarterback Jared Trinastich to graduation, but it has four excellent running backs looking to fill Darling’s shoes.
Coach Jackson Schweikert said the team is four-deep at running back with Stephen Lindsey, Wyatt Green, Trevor Hoerner and Connor Bowman. Green and Lindsey are “flat out amazing,” Schweikert said, and Bowman and Hoerner are solid power backs.
For the quarterback position, Ike Schweikert and Dakota Bridwell have been taking snaps at practice. Schweikert would like to keep his son on defense this season, where he was the Wildcats’ lead tackler at the middle linebacker position. Bridwell is just a sophomore but is showing great promise as he learns the offensive system, which includes 300 passing plays alone.
“Dakota’s coming along,” Schweikert said. “He’s a smart kid with a really good arm. We’re working on his footwork, and that’s a process and it’s hard work. It’s like jumping rope for two straight hours.”
Schweikert said that by the end of his high school career, Bridwell could be a good college quarterback.
Bridwell has plenty of excellent receivers to throw to, including senior Ty Morgan who had more than 1,000 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns last year as he averaged 16 yards a catch. Schweikert also has been impressed with Trevor Houston, Will Johnson and Braxton Reiten.
“We’ve got four slot receivers that can really play,” he said.
On defense, the Wildcats have a host of returning talent in Ike Schweikert, Justice McManus, Bowman and Colton Gove. They also have returning lineman Spencer Ross, who can stuff the middle.
Schweikert said the ultimate goal is to win a state Class A title, but the focus week in and week out is simply a desire to win, “strength and honor — tempo, toughness and finish.”
Last year, the squad fell just short in the playoffs, losing to Billings Central. Even so, it was the first time since 1976 that the program went undefeated in the regular season.
The culture of the program is definitely changing. Used to be a bad play or a turnover would get the team down for a full quarter, even a half, Schweikert noted. Now a mistake is a mistake and the team moves on.
He noted that last year, the squad opened with a Lewistown pick six against the Cats — they turned it around and won in a blowout.
“We’ve got a lot of good kids out,” he said. “We’re working really hard.”
The Wildcats open play Friday night on the road against Lewistown.
Schweikert is assisted this season by Bill Coleman, Chris Finberg, Brandon Rice, Chad Green, Kelly Houle, Jamie Heinz, Tien Windauer, Bill Sapa and Daniel Lowney.
Wildcats Poised for Another Exciting Run
Coming off last year’s historic season, Columbia Falls is eager to keep the momentum rolling
Last season will be a hard act to follow. But these Columbia Falls Wildcats seem up to the challenge.
Seniors Ty Morgan and Ike Schweikert are leading the resurgent Wildcats into another fall campaign, which begins Aug. 30 at Lewistown.
This year’s team is bustling with talent and excitement following last season’s historic run.
“We’ve got a ton of guys back,” head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “What we’ve seen so far, the difference with this team is that we appear to be more explosive. When they touch the ball, you’re going to think they might score every time.”
That says a lot considering last year’s Wildcats were one of the most prolific teams in the state. Columbia Falls averaged more than 37 points per game while holding opponents to roughly 12. That led to one of the best seasons in program history, as the Wildcats achieved its first unbeaten regular season since 1976 and only the second conference championship in three decades. The team finished 9-1 overall and 4-0 in conference.
Billings Central ended the team’s landmark season, defeating Columbia Falls 33-21 in the semifinal round of the Class A football playoffs in Billings. Dillon went on to beat Billings Central 25-13 for the state championship.
“They came away feeling like they were the better team. They felt they were the best team in the state. But a lot of times it’s not the most talented teams that win,” Schweikert said. “They learned a lot. We have to play our best ball every time out. We have to be focused and do all the little things every game. It doesn’t matter who it is we’re playing.”
In order for the Wildcats to build on last year’s success, the team will likely need to take down one of the state’s dynastic programs. Dillon and Billings Central have played for the Class A title the past three years.
“There’s going to be quite a bit of competition out there this season,” Schweikert said.
Columbia Falls will have a new quarterback this season. Jared Trinastich’s replacement will be 6-foot-1, 210-pound sophomore Dakota Brigwell, who played junior varsity last year and has performed well in spring and summer camps.
Brigwell will have the benefit of a strong line and talented skill players back in the lineup, such as Morgan and Trevor Houston. As a junior, Morgan racked up the most individual scoring in the Northwestern A conference. He averaged 12.2 points per game, scoring 122 points over 10 games. He caught 66 passes for 1,073 yards and 16 touchdowns, becoming the best wide receiver in the conference and among the best in the entire state.
Houston also had a standout year last season, catching 27 passes for 353 yards and four TDs as a sophomore.
On defense, Ike Schweikert is the reigning defensive MVP in the conference, and leads a strong core of returning linebackers, alongside Colton Gove, Justice McManus and Connor Bowman.
All in all, Columbia Falls has 85 players out for football this fall, making it one of the largest programs in the state for Class A.
Dogs show quiet confidence on gridiron
Chris Park breaks up a pass during Whitefish's football practice on Friday.
Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Whitefish wants to prove last season’s run to the quarterfinals wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The Bulldogs enter the year quietly confident in building upon the program’s recent emergence as a football threat in the Northwest A.
“Absolutely we’re looking to build on last season,” said Whitefish head football coach Chad Ross. Whitefish finished the 2013 season 8-3 overall and second in the conference.
Nearly 50 players turned out for the first week of two-a-day practices, including eight seniors.
Ross says a troop of strong and athletic juniors could terrorize the league this season — a group he refers to as the fab five.
“This junior class is so strong,” Ross said.
The fab five will be led by third year starting quarterback Luke May. May finished his sophomore season with 1,562 yards passing and 11 touchdown throws. He also rushed for 717 yards and nine scores.
Ross expects May will continue to find ways to move the chains with his cannon arm and powerful legs, while also improving his decision making.
“His athleticism has been there,” Ross said. “His field vision should increase exponentially this season, too.”
May will have a legion of big targets to throw to in senior Jack Streibich, and juniors Jed Nagler and Luke Cardon. All are over 6 feet and clock a sub 5 second 40-yard dash. Other targets will be Levi Burt and Brian FauntLeRoy.
Ross says the Dogs front line is as big as its been in years.
“We’ve had more guys in the weight room than ever,” Ross said.
Whitefish will look to run a spread offense, while the big offensive line gives May a chance to make plays.
“The ball will be in Luke’s hands every play,” Ross said. “He will make decisions on whether to run or throw.”
Chris Park and FauntLeRoy will attack from the backfield.
The Dogs defensive secondary remains an unknown with the loss of last season’s senior leaders in Sean Foley, Walter Holiday and Dave Rizzolo.
“We’re just untested,” Ross said. “We’re replacing those studs. Who can we find to step in and play to that level?”
Locker room leadership will come from seniors Michael Voisin and Streibich, who were selected as pre-season captains.
“They’re doing a great job,” Ross said. “The team chemistry feels really good right now.”
The Northwest A appears to be loaded with talent. Columbia Falls enters the season as the favorite, while Polson is poised to rebound from a disappointing 2013 season.
Still, Ross says Whitefish will be in the mix.
“Whitefish will compete for it,” the coach said with confidence.
High Expectations for Athletic Whitefish
Quarterback Luke May leads strong squad of returning players seeking another playoff berth
The summer workouts were packed. The first practices were full of energy. Following last season’s exciting success, the Whitefish Bulldogs are clearly hungry for more.
“The staff is really excited. The kids did a great job last year bringing back the tradition of working hard and expecting to win,” head coach Chad Ross said. “Now they have some pretty high expectations. We believe we will be able to compete in every game.”
The Bulldogs bring back several talented seniors who are leading the way and providing even more excitement around the football program as the season approaches. Whitefish kick off the fall season at Havre on Aug. 30. The first home game is Sept. 12 against Belgrade.
One of the top returning players in the entire state is Luke May, now a junior entering his third season as the starting quarterback. As a sophomore a year ago, Whitefish’s skilled QB passed for 1,562 yards and 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also ran for 717 yards and another nine TDs, and helped guide Whitefish to the quarterfinals of the Class A state playoffs.
The Bulldogs finished 7-2 in the regular season last fall and defeated Butte Central 43-12 in the first round of the playoffs, before Belgrade edged out a victory over the Bulldogs in the next round, 27-20.
A few key players graduated, including Sean Foley, who erupted for a huge season and was recruited to play at the University of Montana.
Ross said he is eager to see new players step up and fill the important roles.
“Last year we really had seniors who took ownership in the program and turned it around. They went out expecting to win every game,” he said. “They set that tradition and passed it on to the seniors-to-be.”
As a sophomore sharing carries last year, running back Chris Park piled up 304 yards and three touchdowns.
Jack Streibich, now a senior, is poised for a big season at wide receiver. Last season he caught 13 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
Jed Nagler could also have a breakout year at wide receiver. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior caught 14 passes for 240 yards last season.
“We’ve got a lot of good three-year starters coming back,” Ross said.
Ross described this year’s team as fast and athletic, which could lead to an exciting offense.
“We’ve got the mindset of being in shape and playing every down,” Ross said.
One of the key strengths of last year’s team was the turnover margin. The defense snatched 28 interceptions. The penalties also came at a minimum.
Whitefish finished in second place in the Northwestern A conference a year ago, going 3-1 in conference games. This will be the final year the conference is aligned the way it is following Libby’s move to Class B in 2015. That could mean there’s added motivation to claim the final Northwestern A crown. For Whitefish, that will require taking down a longtime rival.
Last fall Columbia Falls blanked Whitefish 21-0. The two teams square off this year on Sept. 26 in Whitefish.
Experienced Sidney Eagles return for promising season
Sidney’s Tyler Quilling makes a back-bending catch during practice Monday.
Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
The boys are back at it for another season of Eagle football, and this year is looking up for the Sidney program. The Eagles graduated seven last season, but with an impressive turnout of player hopefuls coming out for the team head coach Roger Merritt and the rest of the coaching staff have a glass half-full mentality. It’s easy to see why. Sidney welcomes back 10 experienced seniors and 14 talented juniors; not to mention an athletic sophomore class and an eager crop of freshmen. Overall, Sidney returns eight All-Conference players.
“We are returning some valuable experience and leadership,” Merritt said.
The void left by last year’s graduating class leaves the field wide open for talented Eagles hungry for a winning season.
Sticking to the fundamentals, Sidney looks to continue its dominant run game.
“We’ve got a great crew of running backs,” Merritt said.
Logan Thiel, a senior, highlights the slew of returning rushers. The six-foot, 170-pound senior put up impressive numbers last season. He averaged 6.34 yards a carry, racking up 346 yards as the team’s second-leading back.
“He’s a great athlete and he works hard. He put in a lot of time in the offseason,” Merritt said about Thiel. But he wasn’t the only Eagle putting in the time. “The offseason was really good this summer,” Merritt said, stressing the importance of the offseason and how impressed he was with all of the work put in by his players.
Other options in the backfield include juniors Bridger Coffman, Trent Schilling and Chris Gartner and sophomore Parker Dean, among other prospects.
Dusting off their shoulder pads are juniors Ryan Chatterton and Marcus Lovegren, returning after a few seasons off.
“They are two very physical and athletic kids that are going to be back there in the backfield,” Merritt said, also mentioning players including Ethan Graves who add to the team’s ground game.
Calling the shots on the field is senior Gresh Jones. “He’s got some valuable leadership that he’ll bring to the field,” Merritt said of the returning quarterback. The 5-7, two-year starter is productive on both sides of the ball. Jones led the team last year with 39 solo tackles and the Eastern A with six interceptions.
While Merritt vows to stick to the same ol’ smash-mouth offense, returning receivers in seniors Kory Halvorson and Cody Johnson look to gain some yardage and move the chains for the Eagles. Halvorson led Sidney last season with over 200 yards, averaging just shy of 13 yards a catch. Johnson is also a key player for the Eagles as a kicker. He made 20 out of 24 PAT attempts last year.
Other offensive threats for Sidney include seniors Tyler Quilling and Chris Wick and junior Kyle Mueller.
Deepening the roster even more is standout Michael McGinnis, a 6-3 sophomore.
Sidney returns agility and size to the line, and the boys are looking tough. Competition is going to have a hard time crossing the paths of Sidney players like Tristin Fahrnow, Hunter Severson or James Haraldson.
“One luxury we have this year is we have depth and a lot of athletic ability so we can get players off the field. They don’t have to play both sides of the ball. That’s a world of difference.
“With all the experience they have where we left off last year, building it through the summer, we get to start off at a higher level,” Merritt said.
The Eagles ended last year with an overall 6-3 record – a dramatic change-up considering the previous 1-7 season. But last fall ended on a bit of a sour note.
In the team’s final game, the Eagles fell to Miles City 26-14 in a season-deciding contest that sent the Cowboys off to postseason action.
Sidney opens the season up on home turf Aug. 30 as the Eagles host Park City at 4 p.m.
Sidney’s first conference game comes late in September on the road at Laurel. The following weekend, the Eagles host Billings Central on Oct. 3 during homecoming celebrations.
Merritt knows his team’s turnaround season last year sparked a fire in the returning players and the sky is the limit for this year’s gridiron gang.
There are just a few things Merritt said the Eagles need to do in order to be playing in November. “We just have to go out, play well and execute,” he said simply.
'Whitefish' taste pushes Butte Central to improve
The memory is all too clear for returning members of Butte Central's football team. Whitefish handed the Maroons a 31-point loss in the opening round of the playoffs, and it's a flavor that lit a fire under Central this offseason.
"You know, we were really disappointed with how our season ended last year," Butte Central head coach Don Peoples, Jr. said. "It just wasn't where we wanted to be, and I think it's been a really good motivator for our offseason and our kids are hungry to do something better this year."
Quarterback Danny Peoples returns for his second season as a starter, and he'll have new weapon Kyle Harrington at his disposal. Harrington, a junior, placed third last season in the 100 meter dash at the Class 'A' state meet. Needless to say, his speed will be a big factor as he slides into Wyatt Kingston's starting role at running back.
Peoples also has junior tight end Kyle Schulte moving up into a larger role. Schulte replaces the departed Connor McGree, who's a freshman at Carroll College. Schulte had a big impact in the team's 7-on-7 appearances this offseason.
"I definitely know what to expect starting a game," Danny Peoples said. "I feel like I'm used to it more now, a lot of camp and stuff this summer got me a feel for it and I'm ready to get going."
Receiver Chad Peterson also had a big offseason, scoring several times in 7-on-7 ball and in the team's annual Alumni Game.
"We're going to have some depth in our passing game," Peterson said, "we got a lot of depth in our receivers. Speed-wise, we've been out here since April working on our speed, running."
Central's season kicks off on Friday August 29 at Belgrade in a 7 p.m. game.