Florence vs. Fairfield 09

The Florence-Carlton Falcons keep warm on the sideline during their Class B semifinal football game at Fairfield High School, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. This year, the Falcons are off to a 5-0 start with sights set on a deep postseason run.

MISSOULA — Florence-Carlton senior center Jerron McNair hasn't had to worry about playing too many snaps this season, and his younger teammates won't have to worry about being thrown in without much prep time like he once was.

The top-ranked Falcons (5-0) have a wealth of depth that has let the top team in the Western B — and possibly the best in the Class B — rotate in younger linemen on offense and defense to keep players fresh. And the older players have bought into that idea with no qualms about watching a younger player get some run.

McNair, who has been on varsity all four years and has been a mainstay on the O-line for the Falcons, went back to what head coach Pat Duchien instilled in the preseason: a Bigger Than Me (BTM) mindset.

"You look at it from an on-the-field perspective, its like 'Man, one of my friends or the other receiver got the ball instead of me but I am going to go down the field and make a great block for him so he can be successful,'" McNair said. " ... Basically being bigger than yourself to help the team out."

"We are able to rotate so many guys in, so that the younger guys are ready for next year, versus me, in my freshman year, I was thrown in there and really had no idea what I was doing and was scared to death," he added. "Now we can work in these guys so that when their name is called on Friday night they are ready to go. When we call on them, they know what to do."

The chance for younger players to get meaningful playing time can help the program continue its success instead of it fading when a loaded class graduates. McNair recognizes that, and seemed to embody the BTM attitude that the rest of the program has adopted this season with hopes of sustaining the Falcons' success after he graduates.

Seniors don't worry about younger guys getting minutes, because they — as McNair said — recognize the importance of getting the inexperienced youth valuable time on the field.

"When younger guys get in I am so excited for them; it's great," McNair said. "Usually when they are in there they do great too so it's really exciting. You get just as fired up for them as you would for the starting O-lineman."

The BTM mindset shows up when looking at the stat sheet, too. 

The Falcons spread the ball around on offense with three senior wide outs with at least 10 catches and north of 190 receiving yards. Caden Zaluski (20 catches, 386 yards and three TDs) leads the way in yards while Blake Shoupe (19 catches 323 yards, four TDs) and Luke Maki (10 catches, 199 yards and four TDs) are right there as the three have combined for 49 of the Falcons' 71 completions and 808 of the squad's 1,098 receiving yards.

Junior quarterback Pat Duchien has thrown for 1,091 yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 65.7% of his passes.

The ground game is more focused than the passing game for the Falcons with two players doing the bulk of the work. Senior running back Tristan Pyette leads the run game with 54 carries, 407 yards and seven scores with Duchien contributing 206 yards on 39 carries while he has found the end zone four times with his legs.

Falcons continue ascent

A year ago the Falcons were an intercepted 2-point PAT pass, and a handful of other plays in an 8-6 loss, away from their first state-title appearance since the program was in Class C back in 1980. Instead, the Falcons settled for their first semifinal appearance since 1996 as their incremental ascent continued.

Now in his fifth year as head coach, and 10th with the program, Duchien has the Falcons in a strong spot dominating Class B aside from one close game against a tough Townsend squad.

Florence went from missing the postseason in 2016, to first-round exits in '17 and '18, to reaching the quarterfinals in '19 and the semifinal loss to Fairfield in 2020. Now they're off to a a 5-0 start in 2021 with a point differential of 200-32 and have played just one game decided by less than 26 points.

"It's been kinda rewarding," Duchien said of watching the program's rise. "All the credit for that has got to go to my assistant coaches and them buying into what I had a vision for and trickling it down to making sure the players bought in."

Everything coming together

Given all the big wins, the 20-14 win over then-No. 3 Townsend has stood as one of the top lessons for the deep Falcons. They had five fumbles and lost four against the Bulldogs, but learned to take care of the ball and to not stress when pushed against the wall. Duchien said the Falcons didn't, and really haven't, played a full game at their potential yet.

Even in bigger wins like last week over the Eureka Lions, who the Falcons beat 41-15, Duchien said timing errors and route running miscues were exposed.

"It's been great because we really haven't played a full game yet in what should be our true fashion," he said. "I'm excited to get to a game where everything comes together. If you look at it on paper, yes, we are dominant, but we feel like there is definitely room for improvement."

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

Load comments