By EVAN MCCULLERS
The Daily Inter Lake
Vigilante Stadium was once home to Kyle Samson.
He now prepares to enter it as the adversary.
When the fourth-year Flathead coach steps onto the field in Helena tonight, he’ll be traversing the same turf on which he starred for Helena Capital from 1999-2002, winning three state titles and the state MVP and Gatorade Player of the Year award in Montana his senior year.
“I had a ton of pride in that school growing up,” Samson said. “It’s a cool thing to be able to come back as a head coach and compete against your home team.
“Lot of great memories of that field, for sure.
“My biggest probably was winning that state championship with my dad and with my teammates (in 2002). My little brother was a year younger than me. One of my assistant coaches right now, (safeties and special teams coach) Matt Larson, was a captain with me.”
Though that memory and many more will almost certainly creep back into his mind at some point tonight, Samson has much more to concern himself with than simply reminiscing.
His Flathead team travels to Helena to face Capital at 7 p.m., in search of an encore to its season-opening win over Butte last week.
A win would give the Braves their first 2-0 start to a season since 2006, but it will not come easy.
The Bruins, led by running back and linebacker Seth Schneider, will be looking for an emphatic win to prove they belong in any coversation involving top state title contenders.
The game will also serve as the first road test for Flathead.
Well, sort of.
The Braves were forced to open their season with a “home” game at Bigfork High last week due to delayed renovations to Legends Stadium, but this week is different.
This time around, quarterback Taylor Morton and the offense are squarely in enemy territory and will have to confront a large chorus of opposing crowd noise for the first time.
“They always have great crowds down there, and definitely, it’s a different feel when you’re the away team,” Samson said.
”We’ve just got to focus on what we can control.”
One thing firmly in Flathead’s control is how closely it’s able to replicate last week’s performance, especially on offense.
If Morton and Co. is to be successful against Capital, Samson’s squad will need similarly strong contributions from the supporting cast surrounding the senior signal-caller.
That starts with the duo beside Morton in the backfield — running backs Blake Counts and Jon Baker.
The two combined for 244 yards and a touchdown against Butte, taking pressure off Morton in his first varsity start.
“We feed off each other a lot,” Counts said. “We can’t do it without each other. One of us is blocking at times, and one of us is running.”
“You can’t just be able to do one thing,” Baker added. “We can do both.”
Flathead ran the ball 44 times against the Bulldogs compared to 20 passes.
Samson wasn’t about to tip his hand on this week’s game plan, but he was adamant the legs of Counts and Baker won’t be left unchurned.
“We definitely always want to establish the run,” Samson said. “I think that’s part of being a great offensive football team. You’ve got to be able to run the football.”
Morton and the backs got plenty of help from the offensive line, a group — often ignored — that Samson made a point to highlight.
“The offensive line did a tremendous job,” he said. “That’s definitely the strength of our team this year.
“Any time you can get two backs over 100 yards in the same game, that’s pretty impressive.”
“We like to just do our work,” offensive lineman Hunter Wellcome said matter-of-factly.
The receivers also came big in Week 1.
AJ Jones, a junior varsity star alongside Morton in 2016, kept the connection alive on varsity with two touchdown receptions. Tight end Austin Demars also hauled in a pass for a score.
The chemistry between Morton and his receivers, particularly Jones, was not forged during their time together on junior varsity alone.
“A lot of that comes from a lot of the work they put in in the offseason,” Samson said. “All the summer camps and throwing routes all summer early in the morning, stuff like that. They’ve put in a ton of work, where now they feel familiar with each other. That’s obviously huge.”
From the running backs to the offensive line to the receivers flanked wide, Morton received contributions from everyone around him in Week 1.
He was not bad himself, completing 14 of his 20 passes for 180 yards and the three scores.
Together, the first-year varsity starter and his supporting cast formed an offense that — despite some hiccups — was dynamic at times against Butte.
“He knows he’s got 10 other guys around him that are going to have his back,” Samson said. “He has the utmost trust in the guys around him to make plays.”
Whether they do so again against Capital will go a long way in determining whether Samson’s return home, where he is 1-1 as Flathead’s coach, is a sweet one.
“Just a ton of pride in going back there,” Samson said. “At the same time, we’re going back there to try to win a football game.”
The players, mindful of Samson’s history at their opponent’s school, will try to do just that — and perhaps throw themselves into the conversation of state title contenders in the process — for their head coach as much as for themselves.
“It fires him up,” Wellcome said of Samson facing his alma mater. “He wants to win. He wants to beat the old team.”