It’s a rematch from the regular season for Glacier while Flathead draws a foe it has not played in at least five seasons for the opening weekend of the Class AA football playoffs.
Sixth-seed Glacier (5-5) travels to third-seed Helena High (8-2) for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Vigilante Stadium tonight.
Those two teams played on Sept. 14 at Legends Stadium with Glacier rolling to a 48-14 victory. That was Glacier’s first win after starting 0-3. The Bengals were third ranked at the time.
Flathead (7-3) is the fourth seed and hosts two-time defending state champion Billings Senior (6-4), the fifth seed. Kickoff at Legends Stadium is 7 tonight
Winners advance to semifinal play Nov. 9. The championship game is slated for Nov. 16.
In the other quarterfinal contests tonight, top-seed Bozeman (10-0) hosts eighth-seed Great Falls High (5-5) and second-seed Billings West (9-1) entertains seventh-seed Butte (5-5). Those games also start at 7.
This marks the 12th football season for the Wolfpack and it has qualified for postseason action nine times.
Glacier missed out a year ago with a 4-6 record, which snapped a string of eight straight playoff appearances.
Extending this season past the regular 10-game schedule looked to be in jeopardy at times, but winning four straight to close it out put the record at .500, good enough to advance.
“Once we changed our mentality, got our focus in the right places, we were playing well and improving every week,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said.
Bennett said his team, which could have easily by 8-2, showed its true potential in the victory over Helena High.
“We came out physical,” he said. “Helena is such a physical team, it’s what they pride themselves on. We came out and matched it on that night. Things popped for us.”
Preston Blain rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns to help power the Glacier offense. Quarterback Evan Todd keyed the air attack with 260 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The Wolfpack defense held the Bengals to 77 yards rushing and 90 passing.
Glacier held a commanding 28-7 lead at the half.
“We have to start fast, play out front like the first game,” Bennett said.
“If we get going, it’s a bigger challenge for them. If they get the lead, the like to pound the ball take time off the clock.”
Blain currently has 1,569 yards rushing. Drew Turner has the school season record, 1,666 yards set last year.
“We’ve had a great week of practice, a lot of energy, are excited,” Bennett said.
“Not making it last year, the kids were motivated to make the playoffs.”
Bennett said he told his team this week to embrace the underdog role.
“Nobody expects us to win,” he said.
“Be aggressive and get after it.
“We know it won’t be the same,” Bennett said of Round 2 with Helena.
“We jumped on them ... it was one of those nights. It did show me what kind of potential and talent we had. We just had a hard time putting it together.”
Bennett said having blown the Bengals out earlier will not be an advantage.
“A lot of times I would rather play someone who has beat you,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s harder to beat someone twice. The mental motivation is for the other side. Sometimes you want to go in as the underdog, turn the tables.”
The Braves closed out the regular season losing to Helena High at Legends Stadium 22-7 a week ago. The win allowed the Bengals to claim the No. 3 seed and snapped a three-game win streak for the Braves.
“It’s been a great year,” Flathead coach Kyle Samson said.
“We just have to keep it going.”
Flathead was 6-4 last year and the No. 4 seed for the postseason. The Braves dropped a quarterfinal contest to Helena Capital at Legends Stadium, 24-10.
“We’re really excited to have a home playoff game,” Samson said.
“The kids are excited to be in front of the home crowd. It is something the kids worked for in offseason ... to get back to this point.”
On playing Senior ...
“I’ve never played them,” Samson said.
“So this is kind of a fun draw to play a team we’ve never played. To have the two-time defending state champs at our house, we have a challenge in front of us.”
Samson calls Senior a very athletic team with solid players at the skilled positions.
“A lot of these kids have not lost a playoff game,” Samson was quick to point out.
“They know how to win.”
With rain a good possibility tonight, hanging on to the football will be critical.
“The biggest thing Friday night is winning the turnover battle,” Samson said.
“And win the battle up front. Who ever wins in the trenches usually is successful in the playoffs. Our guys up front will need to have a good game and I think they will.”