Editor's note: "Football Around the 'Root" will be a weekly preview series highlighting the six squads suiting up each week on the gridiron with a lead story and several quick-hitting factoids for the other area matchups.
Florence's junior quarterback Colby Kohlman had always dreamed of playing football at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. He got that opportunity last season against Jefferson in the Falcons' 2017 season opener.
"It's a dream come true. Not many people get to play in a college stadium and I'm a die-hard Griz fan," Kohlman said Wednesday at practice.
In his sophomore season — and varsity football — debut, things didn't go according to plan. Mainly, the Falcons lost 13-0 to the Wildcats at the home of the University of Montana Grizzlies.
But as scheduling fates would have it, Kohlman and his Falcons will get another crack at Jefferson on the big stage, Saturday at 2 p.m. Florence again draws Jefferson at WA-Griz, and the junior quarterback — who helped eventually bring his squad to the Class B playoffs — is ready to show Jefferson a different side of him.
"They better be ready for us," Kohlman said Wednesday at practice. "...I took all of (the mistakes), and I just really watched it and paid attention to get things right. Interceptions, footwork making the wrong reads; We're ready this year."
Even while Florence football players pantomimed and practiced their flag-waving entrance for Saturday's matchup against Jefferson, coach Pat Duchien promised that his boys weren't overly hyped for the big stage they'll be playing on in their season opener.
After all, most of the Falcons got a taste of what it's like to play at Washington-Grizzly Stadium last season.
"We talked about it going into last year, and they've kept a pretty good check this week about not focusing on the game being at Washington-Grizzly, but just focusing on playing Jefferson and going out and competing," Duchien said.
Jefferson will indeed take a concerted effort to beat. The squad from Boulder County topped Florence 13-0 in a bit of a slog on the sprint turf of Wa-Griz last season. Although the Panthers missed the playoffs, they finished the season at 6-3 overall, and are a rising favorite in the Class B Southern Division.
Still, Florence is coming off its first playoff appearance in five seasons, and Duchien feels with another year of maturity both at quarterback and as a program, things are trending upward.
He'll again get a first-class venue to showcase his team's growth.
"You just try to keep a lid on (the excitement) until the clock starts, but we'll be amped up and ready to go," Duchien said.
Note: This year, the Falcons will be the away team and enter the field through the visitors tunnel near the north end zone.
Elsewhere around the Bitterroot...
Browning at Corvallis, Friday, 7 p.m.
2017 records: Browning, 5-5 overall*; Corvallis 3-5 overall
*Denotes playoff appearance
Corvallis hosts Browning, fresh off its 2017 playoff appearance, which Blue Devils coach Clayton Curley said has built an excitement level around his Week 1 opponent's program.
"I saw an article that said they had a problem — and it's a good problem to have — they have 60 kids out for football. They don't have enough helmets." Curley said of Browning, which clinched a playoff spot for the first time in nearly three decades last season. "It seems like they've turned that program around and are doing good things."
The Blue Devils themselves have a lot to be excited for as well. Senior quarterback Liang Liedle returns under center after an ACL injury ended his 2017 season prematurely.
Corvallis beat Browning last season, 39-24.
Whitefish at Hamilton, Friday, 7 p.m.
2017 records: Whitefish 1-7 overall; Hamilton 10-2 overall**
**Lost in the Class A state championship game
The Broncs first test of the season not only will be against the Bulldogs, it will be finding some new playmakers. Hamilton does return all-state quarterback Carson Rostad, who led Class A in passing by a wide margin, but they graduated the state's No. 1 receiver and No. 2 rusher in terms of yards.
Hamilton will also be without a handful of returning award winners, who are on the roster but just missed the requisite 10-practice rule.
It's not that they were skipping practice, though. The boys were helping the Bitterroot Red Sox American Legion baseball team in the Northwest Regional Tournament.
"It's a good chance for us to evaluate a lot of kids, that's why we like playing this first week," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. "It's kind of frustrating for (the kids who can't play Friday), but they're practicing hard. It's been frustrating, but they've been good leaders for us for sure."
Hamilton beat Whitefish last season, 47-10.
Stevensville at Polson, Friday, 7 p.m.
2017 records: Stevensville 2-5; Polson 2-6
Stevensville coach Troy Tack said that during two-a-day practice, the focus for his team was purely internal — installing plays and getting the squad's schemes set.
Once the calendar rolled over to game week, however, the Yellowjackets locked on to their opponent.
"On Monday we started to hit the film and get our focus on Polson," Tack said. "We're focused on who's returning. It looks like they return their quarterback, a couple of key lineman, a couple of skill players.
"They run the ball well, the QB is very athletic, and we're looking to stop a multi-faceted attack."
Bo Kelly is the Polson QB. He led his team in both passing and rushing yards, and will be the main point of focus for Stevensville to shut down, as both squads look to build on two-win 2017 campaigns. The two teams did not meet in 2017.
Western C 8-man
Seeley-Swan at Darby, Friday, 7 p.m.
2017 records: Seeley-Swan 3-6; Darby 4-5
The Tigers have a new wrinkle to their offense that they hope takes Seeley-Swan — and the rest of Darby's Western C 8-man cohorts — by surprise this season.
Naturally, though, coach Jeff Snavely wasn't too keen on giving up the details before Week 1.
"We don't want to give up too much information in the paper," Snavely said, chuckling.
Seeley themselves are a bit of a wildcard, too, according to Snavely.
"Last year, they went down and beat Superior (Clark-Fork), and we didn't (beat) Superior, and then (Seeley) went down to us and it was a close game," Snavely said. "You never know what team you're going to get... You kind of go into it blind."
The hosting Tigers topped the Blackhawks twice last season, 44-14 and 40-34 in the season finale.
Victor at St. Ignatius, Friday, 7 p.m.
2017 records: Victor 4-5; St. Ignatius 3-6
The Pirates are also ready to unveil a new-look offense in their season opener on the road against St. Ignatius. So far, new head coach — and University of Montana Griz legend — Curt McElroy said his team has 35 plays in the book, ready to run at any time.
"With our shifts and motions in it, we're trying to put them in a situation to have the best opportunity to win, and yesterday we looked pretty good," McElroy said. "The kids are excited about the offense — it used to be three yards in a cloud of dust — and this offense is a bit different.
"We can throw the ball on first down, throw the ball on second down and throw the ball on third down."
McElroy credited his offensive line on how well they've grown, and thinks they should show up better than they did last year against St. Ignatius. The Bulldogs beat the Pirates in a close one, 26-24.
"It's a big learning curve, but right now I feel we're ahead of the game," McElroy said.