MISSOULA — All it took was a defensive spark, and the Kalispell Glacier Wolfpack was off and running.
After a pair of turnovers were returned for touchdowns by Missoula Big Sky's defense, Glacier settled in and cruised to a 63-35 win on Friday evening at Missoula County Stadium.
The Wolfpack was down big early as it trailed 21-6 with to 8:45 to go in the second quarter. From there, Glacier scored 43 unanswered points to completely take over the game.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Glacier (2-3) while the loss was the third in a row for Big Sky (1-4).
The Eagles started hot thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns from senior Everett Fred. Fred took an interception back 47 yards for the game’s first score. Not long after, Glacier attempted a pass in the backfield that went backwards, but the ball was dropped and Fred scooped it up and went 52 yards to score his second touchdown to make it 14-0 Big Sky in the first quarter.
“I challenged them last week that we had to play a little tougher,” Big Sky coach Matt Johnson said. “Our kids did a good job of responding. (Fred) made a couple of great, huge plays. Being able to capitalize on them is huge.”
And Fred does it again. This time, Glacier throws a backwards pass and it’s dropped for a fumble and Fred scoops it up and goes 52 yards for his second defensive TD. Ben Maehl adds a 2-point conversion and it is 14-0 with 1:41 left in 1Q. #mtscores pic.twitter.com/7rH28SwokD— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) September 28, 2019
Glacier responded almost immediately after junior quarterback JT Allen and sophomore Luke Bilau hooked up for a pair of passes that combined for 88 yards. The score went for 23 yards to get the Wolfpack on the board.
Big Sky got its first touchdown on offense when junior Hunter Meinzen scored on a 2-yard touchdown. That drive was kept alive by a pair of nice plays from senior Jett Rebish who, on third and long, took a screen to put Big Sky in a fourth-and-one position, which Rebish ultimately converted.
But after forcing Glacier into a three-and-out on the next possession, the Eagles turned the ball over after the ball was touched on the ensuing punt, which the Wolfpack recovered. Then, on the next play, senior KJ Johnson punched it in for a 5-yard score to begin the momentum swing for Glacier.
“I felt that was when we grabbed the momentum but the key was not giving it back,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. “We sustained it through the second quarter and kept it rolling.”
.@ghs_wolfpack_fb was forced into a 3 and out but Big Sky’s returner touched the ball and couldn’t corral it and the Wolfpack recovered. Next play, KJ Johnson scores from 5 yards out. PAT is good, Wolfpack trail 21-13 with 7:12 left in the half. #mtscores pic.twitter.com/hUx8X3OP4C— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) September 28, 2019
Allen and backup QB Braedy Santens, a senior, added rushing touchdowns of their own in the second half and quickly it was 28-21 Glacier heading into the break.
Big Sky senior Ben Maehl took the opening kickoff of the second half all the way to Glacier’s 33-yard line. But the Wolfpack got a turnover on downs after Griz commit and Glacier senior Drew Deck had a pass deflection to halt any momentum the Eagles might have gained.
“That first series was huge,” Bennett said. “To me, they could’ve gotten right back in it, but our defense came up with the huge stop and our offense responded.”
From there, the game quickly got out of hand. Glacier senior Hunter Karlstad took an interception back to the house from 23 yards out and Santens added a second rushing TD to make it 42-28. Then, just one minute into the fourth quarter, Bilau and Allen connected again, this time on a 58-yard score, to make it 49-28.
Junior Casey Peiffer added a 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter while Glacier junior Mason Naomi scored on a 36-yard pick-6 which ultimately forced a running clock down the final stretch.
Big Sky senior quarterback Draven Lincoln found Fred and Maehl for passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Eagles never gave up, something Bennett was quick to note.
“I respect coach Johnson and his kids as much as anybody. His kids play hard,” Bennett said. “Those kids will fight you until the end. I mean, Rebish, I don’t know if I’ve seen a tougher kid. I admire that kid so much. Coach Johnson’s kids play so stinkin’ hard so I just admire them and I told our kids this week that this is the game we need to see if we can match that intensity and toughness and see if we can turn it around.
“Really proud of our kids. We needed that exact game where you have to play so tough and Big Sky makes you do that.”
Rebish’s effort was tough to ignore as the senior was everywhere on both sides of the ball all game despite the deficit. He led the game with 14 total tackles while finishing with 171 yards on the ground on 32 carries. He also caught a pass for 12 yards. Fred added four catches for 82 yards and a score while Maehl finished with five receptions for 37 yards and a TD. Maehl also had an interception in the game. Lincoln finished the game 11 for 23 for 143 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Can’t praise our kids enough on effort because that’s what gets us in games and keeps us in games,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of them for that. Everything that I saw that we’re goofing on we can fix. Some of it is on us as coaches and we have to get better and so do our kids. I think there’s some positives we can build with it.”
Allen ended up completing 17 of 28 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Bilau had four receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns while Deck ended up with six catches for 85 yards. Johnson had 109 yards on the ground on 22 carries.
Glacier finished with 533 total yards on offense compared to Big Sky’s 357.
“Our kids bought in and we ask them to believe it before they see it and they do it and they go hard,” Johnson said. “We have a saying, ‘Our smallest guy is tougher than their biggest guy,’ and I think we prove that a lot of times. Now it’s not about playing harder, it’s about playing smarter too.
“It’s tough going sometimes because we don’t have a ton of depth and we’re not the biggest team but I’ll tell you what, I challenge our kids to be exhausted at the end of the game, and they are, so can’t ask for a heck of a lot more.”
Big Sky will take on Sentinel (4-1) in a crosstown battle next Friday while Glacier next will host Missoula Hellgate (3-1) next Friday as well.