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Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights: Big Sky, Glacier battle for spot in state finals

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102414 Big Sky Cory Diaz

Missoula Big Sky's Cory Diaz cuts to the outside during the first half of their game with Butte High Thursday night in Naranche Stadium.

It's been 10 years since any Class AA football program in Missoula has been here, on the doorsteps of the state championship game. One last obstacle separates the Big Sky Eagles and that fleeting title bout, though.

And it is quite the intimidating guard dog.

The Eagles travel to Kalispell to take on top-seeded Glacier on Friday at 7 p.m. The Wolfpack (11-0) hasn't lost a game this season. No team has even come within two scores of the front-runners.

The Big Sky (8-3) boys understand the history, but if they've already earned Missoula its first semifinal playoff appearance since 2004, the task feels a little less daunting.

"I think almost every game we've gone into we've been underdogs," said Big Sky senior wideout and safety Brock Shaide. "We've proved them wrong almost every game. Why can't we prove it this game?"

Glacier was the favorite when the Pack swung through Missoula in early October, a blowout win for the visitors, 49-13. Glacier stormed out to a 42-0 lead in that one, largely neutralizing Big Sky's potent ground game.

That kind of start cannot happen again, Eagles' coach Matt Johnson said.

"It wasn't our greatest game and obviously Glacier's a great team, not to take anything away from them, but we're a better team in a lot of ways right now," he said. "We're stronger, we're faster, we execute better across the board."

Big Sky has won five in a row since the Glacier loss, including a 28-21 victory at Billings Skyview in last week's first round. Senior running back Cory Diaz rushed for 200 yards in that one, his sixth straight game at 145 yards or more and second 200-yarder of the year.

Big Sky, which fell to eventual champion Great Falls CMR the last time it reached the semis in '04, averages 262 yards on the ground as a team this fall. That's a stark difference from a Glacier unit that is most dangerous with the ball in the air.

"We know they want to run the football; if they can hand it off every single play they would do it," Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. "We need to maybe force them out of their comfort zone."

Bennett's remark isn't hyperbole. Big Sky threw the ball only twice in last week's win. Neither pass was completed.

The Eagles are efficient when they throw, though. Last week's 46-rush approach snapped a nine-game stretch in which quarterback Luke Entzel had completed a touchdown pass.

Meanwhile, Glacier QB Brady McChesney has thrown for almost 2,400 yards and 33 touchdowns. He has two or more TDs in every game this year save one, a crosstown dual with Flathead in the regular-season finale.

Logan Jones has 14 of those touchdown receptions and about 750 yards receiving. Sam McCamley is also over 600 yards.

Friday night's forecast will have some Glacier players and fans flashing back to last year's State AA title game in Bozeman, a frigid evening on which the Pack lost to the Hawks. Projected temperatures will dip into the single digits by nightfall in Kalispell.

Perhaps those frozen fingers will lend themselves better to Big Sky's ground-and-pound approach and help the Eagles keep Glacier's offense out of the air, though Thomas Trefney has rushed for 23 TDs as well.

"They have a really good pass game," Shaide began. "Hopefully the ground (and the ball) are really hard so they have to run it.

"They're fast, they're quick. Definitely hard to stop. But not impossible."

Big Sky hasn't made a championship appearance since 1994 when the Eagles beat Missoula Hellgate. That was the last title for any Missoula school.

Glacier's trip to the finals last fall was the program's first in its eight-year existence.


Notes: Helena High (10-1) hosts Great Falls CMR (9-2) in the other semifinal Friday night. The Bengals beat the Rustlers 21-7 in the teams' regular-season meeting on Oct. 10.

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