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Thompson Falls steamrolls way to state championship

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Clark Fork Valley Press/Mineral Independent | November 24, 2021 12:00 AM

​​The Thompson Falls Blue Hawks completed a dominating 2021 season with an equally dominating 40-8 win over the Flint Creek Titans last Saturday in the Montana 8-man state title game.

The Titans rolled into Thompson Falls with plenty of fan support as well as a 22-game winning streak and the 2020 8-man state title.

But to the Blue Hawks, the Titans were just another speed bump on the way to a third championship in school history.

Thompson Falls was 0-9 in 2018 but head coach Jared Koskela’s team has been building to Saturday’s coronation with two straight 9-win seasons before this year’s campaign of perfection.

“I wanted to bring this (championship) back here as a player and couldn’t do it, so to do it as a coach, it’s very gratifying,” Koskela.

The Blue Hawks were back-to-back state champs in 1974-75. The Hawks beat Huntley Project 60-22 for the Class B crown in ‘74. Thompson Falls followed with another in ’75 when it beat Sweet Grass Co., 13-7.

Senior running back Ryan Bucher keyed the rout as he ran for more than 200 yards and scored three touchdowns. Fellow senior back Trae Thilmony, who has been a state champ in wrestling, got to experience the sensation of being No. 1 after he also ran for more than 100 yards.

The Blue Hawks defense starred while allowing only eight points to a Titans team which averaged 53.2 points per game. Flint Creek only found the end zone after a fumble gave them the ball on the Hawks 17-yard line late in the first half.

“Our defense has carried us this year and once we got up a couple of scores I felt we were in good shape,” Koskela said.

The coach, in his seventh season, was correct.

The Blue Hawks scored on their first possession after Thilmony’s 25-yard run on third-and-6 from midfield gave his team a first down at the Flint Creek 15.

One play later, Bucher took it in for the score. Thilmony scored the conversion and the Hawks led 8-0.

After the teams traded a number of possessions with no scoring, the Blue Hawks got the ball back at their 24 with 5:31 to play in the first half. Thilmony and Bucher traded carries to reach midfield.

Bucher finished the drive on the next play with a 40-yard run that he bounced outside and raced down the left sideline for a 14-0 lead.

The Titans moved to the Blue Hawks 14, mainly on the strength of a 46-yard run by Andrew Tallon. But the possession ended on downs at the 12.

One play later, the Titans got the ball back when Thilmony fumbled.

They started at the TF 17 and the Blue Hawks nearly held, but Avery Metesh picked up a first down at the 6. Chase Goldade took it in two plays later and Tallon scored the conversion to cut the lead to six points, 14-8.

While the defending champions seemed to have the momentum it disappeared in a matter of minutes in the third quarter.

The Titans started the second half with the ball, but tackle Hayden Hanks tripped up Goldade for a 10-yard loss on third down. The ensuing punt was short and the Blue Hawks took over at the Flint Creek 30.

Thilmony, Bucher and Ratliff took turns running the ball with the quarterback going in from the 1 to make it 20-8.

TFalls then forced another punt and got the ball back at its 53. Bucher effectively put the game away with an explosive 53-yard scoring run to make it 26-8 with 4:31 left in the third.

The Blue Hawks got the ball back quickly when Ratliff intercepted a Titans pass.

A few plays later Bucher scored again, this time from the 36, but a holding penalty nullified it. The flag only cost the Blue Hawks three yards and they returned to Thilmony and Butcher taking turns running the ball.

With a second-and-goal from the 3, Hanks got the call and no one from Flint Creek was going to stop the 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound sophomore. His touchdown made it 32-8 with 11:24 left in the fourth quarter.

The icing on the proverbial cake came one play later when a Titans ball carrier lost it and Nathan Schraeder scooped it up and ran it in from 14 yards. Schraeder ran for the conversion and it was 40-8.

The postgame celebration was filled with former coaches and players involved with the title-winning teams of the 1970s congratulating the latest champs as well as having photos taken of the three champions while Queen’s “We are the Champions” emanated from the loudspeaker.

“We wore ‘em down because we’re bigger, stronger and faster,” Koskela said. “We’ve seen the rankings in the media and it motivates us. Don’t forget, they came here to play two years ago, were defending state champs and we beat ‘em 64-24.

Flint Creek ran 45 plays, 10 of which went for no gain or negative yardage.

For the season, the Blue Hawks outscored opponents 654-148 in 13 games. They averaged 50.3 points per game and allowed 11.4. The defense finished with two shutouts and had five other games where the opponent scored in single digits.

In their four playoff games, the Blue Hawks averaged 41.8 ppg. and allowed just 10.

NOTES: Hot Springs was the last Sanders County school to play in a state title game. The Savage Heat won the 6-man title in 2016 when it beat Westby-Grenora 54-20. … Flint Creek has had more than its fair share of success in the state finals. The Titans beat Scobey-Opheim 44-6 in 2020. In 2018, they beat Great Falls Central 50-14. In 2017, they beat Forsyth 44-30 for the 8-man crown. The co-op was formed in 2014.