Kyle Samson can count on one hand the number of current Flathead football players who were on the field in the school’s last playoff game.
“A handful of our seniors,” the Flathead head coach said.
“Not a ton.”
Considering the team’s relative playoff inexperience, Samson and his staff have spent the week hammering home a simple theme before the Braves host Helena Capital in a first-round playoff matchup at Legends Stadium tonight at 7 — savor it.
“You’ve earned this right to be in the playoffs and to host a playoff game. Just go out and enjoy the moment and play the game you love,” Samson told the team.
“We talked about it all week — ever since they were little kids, they dreamed about playing on Friday nights at Legends and being in big-time games.
“We just want to go out and have some fun.”
The history of the game is unavoidable.
Tonight will mark the first time since 2005 that Flathead has hosted a playoff game, and it will be seeking the school’s first playoff win since downing Butte on the road in 2006.
In addition to history, the matchup is also full of intrigue.
It’s a rematch of a Week 2 meeting between the two teams, a 30-24 Capital victory. Flathead’s final drive stalled inside the Bruins’ red zone with under a minute to play.
“We were close, but they won the game,” Samson said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to avenge that loss, and we’ve got to go out and earn it.”
The game will also serve as a rematch of Flathead’s 2015 playoff game, which it lost 15-0 to Capital.
Despite all that rides on tonight’s game, Samson said he’s not concerned with his team’s nerves.
“These kids have never let the moment be too big for them this year,” he said. “Their attitude is just, ‘Hey, it’s a big-time game, obviously. It’s win or go home. But at the same time, it’s just another football game. We’re going to go out and have some fun on a Friday night.’”
Yet another element factoring into tonight’s contest is the weather.
Mother Nature made her presence felt in the Flathead Valley over the past two days, and the forecast indicates the snow and bitter cold will continue through tonight.
“When you’re a little kid, you love to go out in the backyard and play football in the snow,” Samson said. “We’ve had a really good week of practice in the snow. The kids haven’t complained or whined or anything like that. They’ve just gone out and tried to enjoy it.”
The two teams enter the playoffs on opposite trajectories.
Flathead closed its season with three consecutive wins, including a 21-20 victory on the road last week at Helena High.
Capital, on the other hand, enters the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. The past two games were particularly tough on the Bruins, as they fell to Billings Senior by 28 points before being crushed 41-6 in the season finale against Missoula Sentinel a week ago.
Capital was without two-way stars Seth Schneider and Conor Quick in its final game, and both are at risk of sitting out the first playoff game.
Whether they play is not the focus for Flathead. Regardless, the Braves’ goal remains the same.
“We want to enjoy the opportunity, but at the same time, we’re not just satisfied with being here,” Samson said. “There’s no one in our locker room or on our staff that’s just satisfied with being in the playoffs. We’re going out (tonight) to get a win.”