FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Confident Flathead squad looks to slow Janacaro, Big Sky

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Flathead receiver Anthony Jones sheds a Bozeman tackler during the Braves' touchdown drive to start the game against the Hawks at Legends Stadium on Friday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

No one word will do for Levi Janacaro.

Mention the Missoula Big Sky quarterback’s name to Flathead’s head coach and defensive players and the descriptors begin to flow en masse.

Athletic.

Physical.

Leader.

Competitor.

Stud.

Janacaro is such a problem for opposing defenses, in fact, that Flathead head coach Kyle Samson is quick to admit that stopping the senior signal-caller is not much more than a pipe dream.

“We know he’s going to make some plays,” Samson said. “We’ve just got to contain him and not let him have a bunch of big plays on us.”

This week, it’s Flathead’s turn to attempt to slow Janacaro and the rest of the Eagles’ offense — something few teams have been able to do thus far — as the Braves travel to face Big Sky tonight at Missoula County Stadium.

Flathead (3-2) heads south searching for its third consecutive victory, a streak the Braves haven’t enjoyed since 2008, when they won six in a row after dropping three straight games to open the season.

Samson’s squad has only won two games in a row, but in a Class AA football season dominated thus far by Billings Senior and the parity below the Broncs, even the smallest of winning streaks can seem significant.

That’s part of why Flathead, one of just four teams in the state with two or more consecutive wins, has a bit of a swagger about it as the Braves load the bus and hit the road for the first time in nearly a month.

“We’re feeling the energy,” Flathead safety Trae Vasquez said. “We’re on a roll.”

“Our kids’ confidence level is really high, and they’re finally seeing all the benefits of the work they put in all offseason and this year, as well,” Samson said. “Success breeds success. As you win, you get confident. You believe that every time you step on the field, you expect to win.”

Whether Flathead is able to continue its winning ways depends largely on its ability to contain the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Janacaro.

The dual-threat quarterback — who is also a safety in the Eagles’ secondary — has been impressive even in defeat this season, as was the case last week against undefeated Billings Senior.

In a 49-14 Big Sky (4-2) loss, Janacaro still managed to throw for 179 yards and pick up another 149 yards on the ground.

“We respect him a lot, but we’re going to get after him,” Vasquex said. “We’ve got to rise up to the challenge.

“After a good 48 minutes of taking a beating, it starts to wear on you a little bit. We just make it an emphasis to get in on every tackle, get in on every play and help your brothers out.”

The Braves have seen first-hand what Janacaro can do, as he rushed for 254 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-13 rout over Flathead in 2016.

But while Janacaro is the unquestioned key cog in the machine, the Big Sky offense isn’t just a one-man show.

The Eagles have other weapons, including running back Kadin Lahti, who rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Braves last year and is once again his team’s second-leading rusher this year.

“Any time you have a running quarterback, it just presents a lot of challenges,” Samson said of Big Sky’s offense. “We’ve got to be very assignment-sound and make sure we’re getting aligned correctly to their formations. And then we’ve just got to win the battle up front.”

A short week has made Flathead’s preparations for the potent Big Sky attack all the more difficult, but Samson and his staff have taken steps to make the most of only three days of practice leading up to the Thursday game.

Though Flathead opened the season with a Thursday night game against Butte, preparation for Big Sky has been more similar to the week prior to the Braves’ matchup with Glacier, a week that saw practices lost due to the terror threat that closed Valley schools and wreaked havoc on area athletic schedules.

“We kind of went back to that same schedule. The kids did a really good job responding to that,” Samson said. “We spent a little bit more time, coaching staff-wise, on the weekend getting ready for this game. We’ve added a couple of periods to Monday’s and Tuesday’s practice.”

Flathead quarterback Taylor Morton said this week “feels just like we’ve had a regular, four-day week before the game.” The Braves can only it yields the same results as the past two weeks.

“It feels awesome after a win,” Morton said. “We love the taste of victory. That’s just what keeps us going.”

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