BILLINGS — For the second straight week, an ill-timed penalty was too much to overcome for Flathead.
In an eerily similar situation to the one they faced last week against Helena Capital, the Braves were marching toward a game-winning or game-tying score until an infraction put them behind the chains and under the gun.
This time it was an illegal block in the back that pushed the offense out of the red zone, the last of a plethora of penalties Flathead could not get past in a 27-20 Class AA football loss to Billings West (1-2) on Friday afternoon at Daylis Stadium.
“It was tough,” Flathead head coach Kyle Samson said. “It seemed like all of our penalties happened in the red zone tonight.
“We’ve got to get better. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Flathead (1-2) had little issue moving the ball.
The Braves outgained West 377 to 312 and converted 20 first downs to the Golden Bears’ nine.
But when it came time to cash in and put points on the board, Samson’s team often came up empty or was forced to settle for field goals.
“We’ve just got to find a way to score a couple of more touchdowns,” Samson said. “We were moving the ball all night, and I thought we did a nice job (on offense), but we’ve just got to really do a better job, and I think we will.”
It was the penalty bug, on several occasions, that bit Flathead at the most inopportune of times.
Four of the Braves’ seven infractions came inside the red zone, including two holding calls, a delay of game and the block in the back on the final drive.
Despite the struggles deep in the opponents territory, the Flathead offense did enough to keep the Braves in the game till the end.
Jon Baker rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries, and Blake Counts rushed for 66 yards and added another 74 yards receiving.
Taylor Morton was solid once again, completing 16 of 29 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown to Baker.
The defense, with the exception of two explosive plays, was stout. But those two plays came back to bite the Braves.
West’s Alex Bruns completed touchdown passes of 64 and 67 yards to Jesse Owens, two scores that weighed heavily on the outcome.
“We stopped the run very well,” Samson said. “We’ve just got to limit those big plays.”
But, in the end, Flathead went away with its hands empty, just as it did last week in a heartbreaking loss to Capital.
Now the Braves will look to regroup before heading home to Legends Stadium for the first time this season next week against Missoula Sentinel.
“Coming off two really close losses like this, it stinks a little bit,” Samson said. “But we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to come back and be ready to go this week and find a way to win.
“Three games into the season is not going to make or break your year. We’re excited to come back, and we feel like with our next three games at home, we’ve got a chance to get back on a roll here.”
Flathead 0 10 10 0 — 20
West 0 7 13 7 — 27
F — Jonathan Baker 3 pass from Taylor Morton (Alex Coulter kick), 9:25
F — Coulter 42 field goal, 3:28
W — Jesse Owens 64 pass from Alex Bruns (kick good), 2:35
W — DeMarcus Carr 2 run (PAT blocked), 11:46
F — Coulter 42 field goal, 6:37
W — Owens 67 pass from Bruns (kick good), 5:05
F — Blake Counts 2 run, 3:44
W — Teddy Krogh 18 pass from Bruns (kick good), 11:02
First downs 20 9
Rushes-yards 44-164 26-80
Passing yards 213 232
Comp-Att-Int 29-16-1 11-9-1
Total offense 377 312
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Punts-Avg 2-30 4-37.8
Penalties-Yards 7-60 3-18
RUSHING — FLA: Jon Baker 20-118, Blake Counts 15-66, Anthony Jones 2-7, Bobby Lowry 1-1. WST: Cade Nelson 3-44, Demarcus Carr 16-33, Brandon Dringman 1-12.
PASSING — FLA: Taylor Morton 16-29-1-213. WST: Alex Bruns 9-11-1-232.
RECEIVING — FLA: Blake Counts 4-74, Jon Baker 4-18, Bobby Lowry 3-21, Anthony Jones 2-56. WST: Jesse Owens 5-185, Teddy Krogh 2-24, Tyler Buckingham 1-20, Winston Platt 1-3.