Monday, September 27, 2021
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Blue Hawks roll over St. Regis/Mullan, 44-26

by CHUCK BANDEL
| September 8, 2021 12:00 AM

Some teams rebuild.

Some teams, as was clearly evident in their 44-26 conquest of host St. Regis/Mullan Friday night, simply reload.

It may be early in the 2021 Montana 8-man football season, but write Thompson Falls into the “reloaded” category.

In the process of putting a damper on St. Regis’ homecoming activities, the visiting Blue Hawks put a hurting on the Tigers in what became a seriously hard-hitting, pad-popping affair.

Things looked good early on for the Tigers, who have a co-op arrangement with Mullan, the Idaho school on the other side of Lookout Pass.

The Tigers also have a bright outlook on this new season, having “reloaded” their offensive backfield with a trio of Idaho all-conference players from last year.

That was on display in the opening two minutes of the game when St. Regis marched quickly downfield on their opening possession. Senior running back Adam Ball capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown sprint with 10:55 still to play in the opening 12 minutes. The point after touchdown run was good and before some of the large crowd of spectators had settled into their seats the Tigers were up 8-0.

Not to be outdone, the Blue Hawks put together a turf-gobbling drive of their own behind the passing and running of junior quarterback Elijah Ratliff, who finished the long march with a three yard TD run of his own. The PAT was good and with 6:07 to play in the first quarter, the scoreboard showed an 8-8 tie.

In what was an action-packed, fan-pleasing first quarter, St. Regis responded with a long drive, moving 65 yards in just under three minutes.

The Tigers road the passing and running of junior quarterback Caleb Ball and his brother Adam, on a first-down chewing drive that was aiding by a facemask penalty on Thompson Falls.

Caleb Ball hooked up with junior wideout Floyd Nelson on a 20-yard pass that was good for six points. The PAT was no good but the host Tigers held a 14-8 lead as time expired in the opening stanza.

The Blue Hawks were forced to punt on their next possession, the opening drive of the second quarter. However, the TFalls defense rose to the occasion and thwarted the ensuing St. Regis/Mullan set of downs, which ended with Adam Ball being tackled short of the first down marker on what was a fake punt.

That miscue gave the Blue Hawks the ball on the St. Regis 12, where, one play later, Ratliff ran for his second touchdown with 8:54 to go in the first half. A successful point after kick put TFalls ahead for the first time at 15-14.

They would not trail the rest of the way as their defense began to take control of the line of scrimmage and forced Caleb Ball to scramble most of the rest of the night.

On one of those scrambles, Ball was hit and fumbled, giving the Blue Hawks the ball on their own 22. That drive appeared to stall, causing TFalls to go for a first down on fourth-and-4. As he was rolling left, Ratliff was hit from behind and fumbled, with the ball bouncing forward.

The junior quarterback scooped up his own fumble, then rambled for a first down, keeping the drive alive.

After a few runs by all-state running back Trae Thilmoney, the Blue Hawks wound up with the ball on the St. Regis 5. Ratliff ran up the middle for another touchdown, which gave the Blue Hawks a 23-14 lead that held up to the end of the first half.

St. Regis look the opening kick of the second half and moved to midfield before the drive stalled and the Blue Hawks took over on downs.

A few plays later, Thilmony broke through the St. Regis defenders and sprinted 40 yards to the end zone and six points, boosting the Blue Hawks’ lead to 30-14 with 6:23 to go in the third quarter.

Both teams next possessions stalled, due in part to costly penalties that interrupted potential long drives.

In that span and the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the host Tigers saw both Ball brothers go down with leg injuries which at first appeared to be serious. However, both would return to the game after spending time on the sidelines.

Also going out for a brief time with an apparent injury was Mullan running back/linebacker extraordinaire Luke Trogden, who also shook off the temporary injury and returned to action.

The third quarter came to an end with Thompson Falls holding a commanding 30-14 lead.

The final 12 minutes of play got underway with Ratliff running for another touchdown, this one from 26 yards out after a long Blue Hawks drive which put the visitors up 37-14 with 11:51 to play in the game.

St. Regis then mounted a march of its own, despite the temporary absence of Caleb Ball. Trogden took over the quarterbacking duties and moved the Tigers downfield before Caleb managed to limp back into the game.

The Tigers’ junior QB proceeded to erupt for a long run that put St. Regis/Mullan on the Blue Hawks 5 with a first-and-goal. A fumble on the next handoff exchange was leaped on by the Blue Hawks, halting that fourth quarter drive and crushing the Tigers hopes of a late rally.

Thompson Falls put an exclamation mark on the game a few plays after the fumble recovery when sophomore Nick Tessler broke free on a 45-yard scoring run, putting the Blue Hawks up 44-14 with 6:36 to go in the contest.

With reserves seeing playing time the rest of the way, the Tigers managed to score a pair of touchdowns in the late going, but it was not enough or in time to change the inevitable outcome.

The win boosted the Blue Hawks to 2-0 on the young season, while the loss dropped St. Regis to 0-1 on the year.

Next up for St. Regis is a series of home games on their “other” home field in Mullan, beginning this Friday when they host Lakeside of Plummer, Idaho in an Idaho conference game.

"The Big 3" (Adam Ball, Caleb Ball and Luke Trogden) are going to be just fine, it was just cramps from having to do so much," Tigers coach Jesse Allan said. "TFalls is solid, I was impressed with their second in space, they do a great job of gang tackling and their horses up from can move some people around."

Allan said he thinks the Blue Hawks will be a viable playoff contender in Montana and that his team will also do well in the Idaho playoff hunt.

Thompson Falls will return home this Friday to face rival Mission at 7 p.m.