FOOTBALL PREVIEW: With ‘backs against the wall,’ Wolfpack heads to Bozeman

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If 2017 seems like deja vu for the Glacier football team, you can’t blame them.

The Wolfpack (0-2) has lost its first two games of the season, both at home, by a combined 23 points. The team’s next contest comes against an undefeated traditional power, with Bozeman (2-0) beating winless Billings West and Missoula Hellgate to start the season.

In 2015, Glacier lost its first two games of the season, both at home, by a combined 20 points. The team’s next contest came against an undefeated traditional power, with Helena Capital beating winless Billings West and Missoula Hellgate to start the season.

“We’ve talked about 2015, not that it matters, but it’s a great example of other teams that have had their backs against the wall, facing adversity,” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said. “Now, what does the 2017 team do? Those other teams responded really, really well. Now, it’s this team’s chance to see what they can do.”

The 2015 Wolfpack edged Capital 7-3 in a defense-heavy contest, the first of nine straight games Glacier won before losing to eventual state champ Bozeman in the Class AA state semifinals.

A similar path is available to this season’s Wolfpack, but it will need to reverse some bad trends it’s gotten into in the season’s first two weeks.

Glacier has had trouble in pass protection, averaging just 15.5 receptions and 72.5 yards in the air this season.

It has also had trouble getting its offense going in the first half, relying on third quarter rallies to erase fruitless starts to each game.

With each of those as the leading problems, Glacier had trouble hanging on to the football last week, with three turnovers leading directly to two scores in a game decided by seven points. Glacier has also accounted for 16 penalties in its first two games.

“We haven’t been very good in several areas in the first two games,” Bennett said. “We’ve been focusing on overall improvement. I don’t think there’s one area necessarily to pinpoint, it’s trying to get better across the board.

“You see a lot of things on film, when you watch it, and realize how far we have to go. The process of a season is trying to get better every week. Unfortunately, we didn’t take as big of strides as I was hoping from Week 1 to Week 2. We’ve got to try to make that jump from Week 2 to Week 3.”

The slow starts have given a coaching staff used to piling up points fits early in the season, part of which Bennett puts on himself.

“We all have to get better,” Bennett said. “We have to coach better. Sometimes you get used to just rolling, like we have in the last few years. You come in (to halftime) frustrated and you look, and you’re up by 35. That’s not the case (this year). We have to get better too and make some adjustments and do different things and get things going.”

One of the changes Glacier will try to make against Bozeman is to increase touches for its plethora of skill position talent.

“We’re trying to mix it up a little bit more, even in the backfield, getting (senior Jackson) Pepe more touches,” Bennett said. “We only got him a couple last week. It’s been a weird year. We do have a lot of talent, but things haven’t clicked into place like they have for us. Things have gone really well (in the past few years). It’s little things. Pepe has had a hamstring the first two weeks that has limited what he can do, so we’ve limited his touches. Mark (Estes) is still learning, but we’re trying to get him more comfortable so we can get him more touches out of the backfield. Our offensive line is still green and Bennett McChesney, our starting center, went down early last week. But, that’s the way it is. We have to find a way to overcome.”

Glacier will have to overcome against a team it has played more than any other in the state. This will be the Wolfpack’s 14th meeting with Bozeman, the teams playing twice in three of the last five seasons.

The Hawks have a young team with a tenacious defense, giving up only 21 points in two contests. The offense, comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors, overcame a late deficit last week, scoring 15 points in the final five minutes to beat West 15-14.

“It’s crazy how often we’ve played,” Bennett said. “It seems like we play Bozeman twice a year almost. ... We know what they like to do, what they want to do. Bozeman’s always well coached and they have great athletes. We know one of the things they do is they’re going to find your weaknesses.”

The game is scheduled to kick at 7 p.m. at Van Winkle Stadium. It will be broadcast in the Flathead Valley on 103.9 FM The Monster and a live stream of the game will be on mtsport.tv.

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