Jace Klucewich

Jace Klucewich

FRENCHTOWN — Jace Klucewich didn't have better cleats than everyone else Saturday.

It just seemed that way.

The speedy running back racked up 200 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on a slippery, soggy field at Frenchtown. His long touchdown jaunts early in the first and third quarters proved critical in the Broncs' 34-7 win over Whitefish in a State A football playoff opener.

"We practiced on this field all week and got used to it, so that was probably an advantage for us," said Klucewich, a junior who is getting looks from the Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats.

"Actually this is 100 times better than last week in Libby. It was just wet and snowy up there and no one could get grip at all."

While Klucewich piled up the yards and points, most everyone else on both sides looked like they were playing on ice in the first half. The conditions were especially tough on the quarterbacks, who completed a combined 16 of 43 passes, often overthrowing receivers that struggled to kick into high gear in slop that followed Monday's snow.

"We've got so much speed in the backfield and at receiver, and in these conditions it kind of takes away some of that speed and our agility," said Frenchtown coach Ryne Nelson, whose 8-2 Broncs will travel to face top-ranked, unbeaten Miles City next Saturday.

"Jace (Klucewich) is great at getting the ball and cutting and making guys miss. But in this kind of stuff it takes away that side of his game. We still obviously just try to get the ball to him in space and our other guys as well."

The play that defined Saturday's game was a simple sweep left. Frenchtown dialed it up on the first play of its first series and Klucewich rambled 49 yards for paydirt. The Broncs called it again on the first play of their second series after halftime and Klucewich scooted 88 yards for a touchdown.

"We just put that in this week," he said. "It's just something different than we always do. My linemen blocked well and I have to thank them."

Saturday's matchup looked relatively even on paper, with the Bulldogs coming in with an explosive offense and a 6-3 record. Whitefish was still very much in the game at halftime after Fynn Ridgeway's 14-yard TD pass to Bodi Smith cut the visitors' deficit to 13-7 at the break.

But Whitefish failed to build on its momentum in the third period, in part because of Cade Baker's interception. 

"It was a pretty tough first half for both teams, kind of battling back and forth," Nelson said. "At halftime we said we'd stick with what was working and we went out and executed.

"Our defense played really well other than that one series they scored on. The young freshman quarterback on their side (Ridgeway), we wanted to get to him. We were able to get a couple interceptions."

Klucewich's 88-yard touchdown run with 7:50 left in the third quarter gave Frenchtown a 20-7 lead and marked the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs. Baker scored on a 4-yard scramble late in the period and Ben Larson added an insurance touchdown in a 14-yard burst in the final frame.

Now comes the really hard part for the Broncs — trying to win at Miles City after a 7-hour bus drive.

"They're kind of similar to us," Nelson noted. "It sounds like they've got a lot of speed and spread the ball out.

"I think we match up fairly well against them. But it sounds like they're pretty tough. What a great opportunity for us to get on the road and go and try to take out the No. 1 team in the state."

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Bill Speltz is in his 13th year as Missoulian Sports Columnist. He also guides the sports dept., scheduling day-to-day coverage. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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