By COLIN GAISER
The Daily Inter Lake
Flathead shook off last week’s loss in style, overwhelming Missoula Big Sky in the first quarter before cruising to a 56-31 Class AA football victory on Friday at Legends Stadium.
It took the spirited Braves (5-2) just three plays to get on the scoreboard on homecoming night, as senior quarterback Jaden MacNeil burst through the line for a 62-yard touchdown run.
“The way they started the game this week was tremendous,” Flathead coach Kyle Samson said. “We lost to a really good team last week in Bozeman, but we talked all week, we’ve got to respond.”
After a Flathead interception brought the ball to the Eagles 27-yard line, MacNeil spiraled a perfect pass to senior Logan Siblerud. He added two more touchdown passes in the quarter to senior Anthony Jones. The first was off a bootleg to the right for a 10-yard touchdown, and the second a 19-yard touchdown on a laser throw into end zone traffic as Jones was smothered by two defenders.
MacNeil finished the night with five touchdown passes — four of those to Jones — and 212 yards passing, going 14-for-17 with no interceptions.
“[MacNeil] has gotten better every week. It’s his first year being a starting quarterback and he just keeps getting better. I’m really proud of him,” Samson said.
Flathead led 29-0 after one quarter, and it was the Braves defense that set up the offensive onslaught. The Braves forced three first-half turnovers and did not allow Big Sky (2-5) beyond the 50-yard line until midway through the second quarter.
Samson was thrilled with his defense’s performance in the first half, saying they “did a great job getting off the field on third down.”
The Eagles got on the board with 6:23 left in the half on an 8-yard touchdown run by junior Jett Rebish, set up by a 66-yard pass from sophomore Colter Janacaro to junior Ben Maehl.
MacNeil added a touchdown reception to his career day with 24 seconds left in the half. On third-and-five from the 12-yard line, MacNeil tossed the ball to senior running back Blake Counts, who then tossed it to Siblerud. Siblerud threw an excellent pass between multiple defenders to find MacNeil, who was waiting in the end zone. The touchdown gave Flathead a 42-7 halftime advantage.
“We’ve worked on that all the time, it seemed like the right time to call it,” Samson said.
The Eagles took advantage of two Flathead fumbles in the third quarter to go on a 17-0 run. Janacaro ran for a touchdown and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to junior Everett Fred to make the score 42-24 with 5:28 left in the third.
Janacaro finished with 76 yards rushing and 103 yards in the air.
Flathead responded by going to Counts, its star running back, to ice the game. Counts churned his way for 66 yards rushing on a 67-yard drive, capping the drive with a five-yard touchdown run. He finished the game with 178 yards rushing to give him 1,186 yards on the season.
Jones added one more highlight play to finish the scoring for Flathead with 9:43 left, catching a pass and somehow slipping under a tackle on the right sideline before running uncontested into the end zone.
The Braves will travel to Great Falls CMR next Friday, with sights set on securing a high seed for the AA playoffs.
Missoula Big Sky 0 7 17 7 – 31
Flathead 29 13 7 7 – 56
F – Jaden MacNeil 62 run (Eric Gardner kick)
F – Logan Siblerud 27 pass from MacNeil (PAT pass Anthony Jones to Seth Moon)
F – Jones 10 pass from MacNeil (Gardner kick)
F – Jones 19 pass from MacNeil (Gardner kick)
F – Jones 46 pass from MacNeil (Gardner PAT run failed)
BS – Jett Rebish 8 run (Jim Seielstad kick)
F – MacNeil 12 pass from Siblerud (Gardner kick)
BS – Seilestad 38 FG
BS – Colter Janacaro 4 run (Seielstad kick)
BS – Everett Fred 29 pass from Janacaro (Seielstad kick)
F – Blake Counts 5 run (Gardner kick)
F – Jones 39 pass from MacNeil (Gardner kick)
BS – Ben Maehl 5 pass from Draven Lincoln (Seilestad kick)
BS F First downs 13 23
Rushes-yards 37-110 40-290
Passing yards 145 224
Passing (att-com-int) 19-10-2 20-15-0
Penalties-yds 2-20 14-116
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-3
Punts-avg 4-34 2-34
Kickoff returns-yds 8-165 6-141
Int. (no. –yds) 0-0 2-47
RUSHING – Big Sky, Colter Janacaro 20-76, Jett Rebish 10-21, Ben Maehl 1-9, Andrew Gardanier 4-6, Everett Fred 1-1. Flathead, Blake Counts 25-178, Jaden MacNeil 9-90, Chance Sheldon-Allen 1-19, Travis McCully 4-6.
PASSING – Big Sky, Colter Janacaro 3-6-0-103, Draven Lincoln 4-5-0-31, Andrew Gardanier 3-7-1-11. Flathead, Jaden MacNeil 14-17-0-212, Logan Siblerud 1-1-0-12.
RECEIVING – Big Sky, Ben Maehl 3-74, Everett Fred 1-29, Wyatt Shinn 2-14, Shawn Huseby 1-12, Colter Janacaro 2-8. Flathead – Anthony Jones 10-163, Logan Siblerud 2-32, Travis McCully 2-17, Jaden MacNeil 1-12.