Unforeseen situations, such as injuries, play a role in the success of a football team at any level. And if the Clark Fork Mountain Cats can avoid the injury bug, they will likely show improvement, teamwise, over last season in Class C 8-man football.
Jeff Schultz enters his 11th year with the Mountain Cats program, and it’s his fourth season as head coach.
Clark Fork has the unenviable task of taking on defending state champion Flint Creek in the season opener “showcase” game this Friday. It’ll be staged at Naranche Stadium at Butte High School, and kicks off at 3 p.m. Choteau faces Ennis in the other game at that stadium that evening.
The Mountain Cats’ first home game is against Mission on Friday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m.
Clark Fork went 1-8 during an injury-ridden 2017 season. The Mountain Cats hope to be one of the four teams from the Western Conference to qualify for the state playoffs.
The Mountain Cats lost five key players to graduation, including Connor Voll, Caleb Verversis and Isaac Warren. Warren missed the last six games due to a shoulder injury. In all, 12 players missed playing time due to injuries.
“At one point we lost both our quarterbacks,” Schultz said of last season. “Connor became our wildcat offense QB.” In a game last in the season, Voll had a “triple-triple,” with 100 yards or more in passing, rushing and receiving.
TAKING THE snaps behind center this season will be 5-foot-6, 160-pound sophomore Bryan Mask. He will throw to juniors Isaac Kovalsky, Trey Green and Tyler Francis, and sophomore Jake Calloway. Green also plays running back, and starts at middle linebacker to key the defense.
Clark Fork’s only two seniors are Michael Spence (center/nose guard) and Korey Radford (guard/defensive tackle). Other key juniors are Houston Coons (guard/middle linebacker) and Jacob Lapinski (nose guard).
“This year, we will be able to do more of what we want,” Schultz said. “We’ll be more of a balanced team.” The Mountain Cats became very “run heavy” late last season.
The team’s top special teams player is 5-7, 140 sophomore Danner Haskins. “Last year, he was a phenomenal special teams player for us,” Schultz said.
Making the state playoffs is the initial goal this season.
“We have a very talented group. Last year, we were young. The injury bug bit us pretty hard,” the coach said. “If we stay healthy we’ll be one of the top teams competing, we hope.”
With six starters returning, Flint Creek is the pick to repeat as Class C 8-man state champion. They do, however, have a new quarterback, the coach’s son. Top players are receiver Jackson Lee and 6-5 tight end Riley Allen.
“Charlo is always tough. They have lots of good athletes, and the best player in the West (Western Conference), and maybe in the state in Lander Smith. He plays quarterback and any position on defense.”