DRUMMOND — Hard to believe it has been five years since the Flint Creek high school football co-op came to life.
Maybe that could be because of the success the Titans have found along the way. Flint Creek, the combination of the communities of Drummond and Philipsburg, currently holds the state’s longest winning streak regardless of classification, having won 22 straight 8-Man football games.
The team is going for No. 23 on Saturday at 1 p.m. when Culbertson makes the almost nine-hour, 530-mile trek southwest to Philipsburg to take on the Titans.
So how have the two long-heated rivals made things work so smoothly?
According to head coach Mike Cutler, the kids deserve all of that credit. For them, there’s only one way to put it.
“At the end of the day, we’re the Titans,” senior Kane Hess, of Philipsburg, said.
Simple, right? But as two foes came together, step one was just that. They were now a team and not individual entities. Everything else would work itself out from there.
Plus, pride had to be left at the door if both schools wanted to stay at the 8-man level, as enrollment numbers for Drummond and Philipsburg were declining to troubling levels.
“We needed to,” Cutler, of Philipsburg, said. “Philipsburg had been playing a couple years with 9, 10, or 11 kids. Couple of games with eight.”
“The last year before we co-op’d, we were lucky to make the playoffs and went to Ennis with 12 and just got hammered,” defensive coordinator J.C. Holland, of Drummond, said. “It wasn’t about getting beat, we practiced against garbage cans leading into that game. (Philipsburg) had been doing that for about the four of five years before that. Too many freshmen had to play and it’s not healthy for them.”
And so, the Flint Creek co-op was born. The Titans have made the playoffs every year since the two towns teamed up.
“Back in our day we played against each other,” Cutler said of his relationship with Holland. “We’ve been really good if not best friends ever since then. So the story would go that he and I have been talking about it for a long time.”
Cutler said in Philipsburg the school had a meeting with parents of each student coming up from about third grade and on. The two options were either team up with Drummond or drop to 6-Man football.
“It was overwhelming,” he said of those in favor of the co-op. “I think maybe one or two parents wanted to go to 6-Man.”
Holland said Drummond was in a similar boat. In the year before the co-op, Drummond had 12 kids out while Philipsburg fielded 11, so even combined, the numbers were not large.
“Our numbers were almost identical in the elementary levels and it was like, ‘It’s time,’” Holland said.
“We kept saying this is about the kids not about some parent from Philipsburg or Drummond that got late hit out of bounds in 1958 and can’t let that go,” Cutler said. “Eventually, those people started listening to the kids and how excited and how much fun they were having and talking about their friendships that they had with kids from Philipsburg or Drummond or vice versa.”
“It’s pretty cool just because we were rivalry teams in the past and just to come together and really have no fighting or anything between the players was pretty cool,” senior Luke Holland, of Drummond, said. “Kade (Cutler) and I have been friends our whole life and we get to play together and our dads get to coach us, so that’s pretty cool.”
Mike Cutler said in the first couple of years Drummond fans would be in one spot watching while Philipsburg spectators were in another.
“You don’t see any of that anymore,” Cutler said.
“You wouldn’t have any idea who was from where,” J.C. Holland added. “We talk with some of the parents and these kids are all cut from the same cloth. They’re all loggers or ranchers or farmers and schoolteachers. It’s not like we’re going from city kids to country kids, they’re all the same kids.
“Their parents grew up together. Maybe they were rivals back in the day but a lot of the old-timers were for it. These kids I don’t think would change it for anything.”
Things have been going so well in fact, Cutler and Holland said a lot of the kids wish they were a co-op in all sports.
The players admits that’s true, and basketball season can be a time for jokes when the schools compete as opposed to a serious game.
“Basketball comes around and we’re still just another bunch of guys and our games are kind of just screw-offs,” junior Jaxon Lee, of Philipsburg, said. “It’s more like a competition between siblings I guess. It’s like competitive brothers.”
“I think if you say on a bus or at one of our team breakfasts, you couldn’t tell who was from where because we’re all mixed,” senior Colby Manley, of Drummond, said. “It’s just like a big family. It’s awesome.”
As far as rivalries go, the players did not seem concerned about it at all.
“I think everybody didn’t really care about that as much,” Manley said. “It was more about playing football and trying to win games.”
“I was kind of for it from the beginning since my dad was the coach and was so for it,” Luke Holland said. “It had more benefits than anything. It’s really special because you have two towns and double the amount behind you.”
“The Drummond kids are like my best friends now,” Lee said. “I don’t really know the rivalry. It’s more of just hanging out all of the time. I was cool with it because I’ve always been cool with these Drummond kids. I love being a co-op.”
The players said that unity has been the core of the co-op’s success.
“I think it’s been so successful because we haven’t had a Drummond or Philipsburg football team with this group. It’s always been the Titans the last five years. So we’ve gotten to know everyone since freshman year,” Hess said. “It’s kind of cool that we brought two schools together and won state last year. Hoping to do it again this year.”