It starts up front for Flathead

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While Blake Counts, Jaden MacNeil and Anthony Jones get the most attention game-in and game-out for their spectacular scoring efforts, game-busting runs, accurate passing or acrobatic catches, it’s Andrew Siderius, Patrick Hammond, Sebastian Koch and Max Anderson who quietly do their job to make sure it all happens.

Those four linemen are the ironmen for the Flathead Braves football team. They go both ways, offense and defense. They have earned the nickname the “Hogs” from line coach Alex Cummings for their dirty work in the trenches — opening holes and pass blocking on offense. On the other side of the ball, they disrupt the opposition’s offense with tackles, sacks and forced fumbles.

“It’s been awesome having all the guys around me and in the backfield,” Koch, a senior right guard and defensive tackle, said.

“On both sides of the ball. It has been great to see how far we have come. When the o-line does well, everyone feeds off of us. It’s fun to have those guys around us.”

Guys like Counts, a senior running back, who set the Flathead High School season rushing record behind those four and also broke the state’s season rushing mark in the process.

MacNeil, a senior quarterback, who has rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards. In an earlier game, he accounted for a school record seven touchdowns (five passing, one rushing and one receiving) versus Missoula Big Sky.

And Jones, a senior wide receiver, who had a school record five touchdown receptions in the same game.

Koch and his teammates are not surprised by any of this, or the team’s success this fall. The Braves are averaging a healthy 36 points per game on offense.

“It was just another game, another step,” he said of the pivotal quarterfinal playoff contest with Billings Senior, the two-time defending state champions, on Nov. 2.

“When we won, it felt really good. Coming out with a win against a great team like that felt great.”

Flathead won 52-35.

Top-ranked and undefeated Bozeman followed the next week in the semifinals. The Braves won 21-17 to offset an earlier loss to the Hawks in Bozeman.

“A great win,” Koch said.

“We went into that game knowing we needed to win.”

Now it’s Billings West (11-1) tonight at Daylis Stadium in Billings for the Class AA state championship. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Wendy’s Field.

West beat Flathead (9-3) at Legends Stadium on Sept. 7, 42-20.

“The game will be won in the trenches,” Koch predicted.

“Their o-line is very good. They play like a team like we do. We respect them. We are coming at it with the same mentality as Bozeman.”

Anderson, a junior center and nose guard, welcomes a second change with West.

“I’m really confident we are really going to win,” he said.

“The first game (with West) we started off really slow. It was tough to come back from that. This time we’ll start fast.”

Anderson enjoys the offensive part “when blocking and all you see is Blake running 20 yards for a touchdown. That’s the best feeling.”

And in the trenches on defense …

“It’s a momentum changer when we get a stop in short yardage,” he said.

Anderson started last year as a sophomore, but says the bond with his three linemen this year is much stronger.

“This is by far the coolest I’ve felt with the o-linemen,” he said.

“It’s fun playing with them.”

Hammond, a senior left tackle on offense and defensive end, said the team’s final practice on Wednesday was one he will remember forever.

“A lot of emotions,” he said.

“I’m going to miss it a lot ... just being with this whole team again.”

Regarding playing for a state championship ...

“It’s something we’ve been talking about since our freshman year,” he said.

“Now we get to do it. It means all the work we put in finally paid off.”

He said the victories over Glacier and Bozeman were season high points.

“I think we were confident and we got the win,” he said of Bozeman.

“We knew (before the game) how much we had prepared and what we had to do to win. We went out there and did it.”

Siderius, like Hammond, has been a starter for three seasons. The right tackle/defensive tackle was honorable mention all-state last year and second team all-conference. This is his first year playing offense.

“Coming off last year, we had a strong team, went to the playoffs,” Siderius said.

“I was definitely expecting we would go far this year. We had a lot of returning starters.”

Siderius had two older brothers play football at Flathead, but he’s the first to help his team reach the postseason.

“It was definitely high energy,” he said of the final practice before tonight’s game.

“Everyone was talking, everyone was loud, jumping up and down. For being my last practice on this field (it helped) knowing I get to play another game, gave me something to look forward to.”

He said former Flathead coach Bob Applegate, who coached FHS in the 2000 championship game, spoke to the players that day.

“He gave a short speech at the end,” Siderius said.

“About toughness and how this game is super special.”

And Anderson is ready to experience that.

“I always wondered what it would be like to be here, and now that we are here, it’s really something to enjoy,” he said.

“It’s just so exciting after a game you win, in the locker room, it’s a great feeling.”

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