DRUMMOND — The Flint Creek Titans want to make one thing clear: the past stays in the past.
The Titan players and coaches don’t want anyone to talk about the two straight 8-Man football championships they have won. They would rather not mention the 25 straight games they’ve won in back-to-back undefeated seasons, the longest winning streak in the state regardless of classification.
The way they see it, those were different teams with different players.
Now, it’s time for a new crew to star and lead the Titans toward what they hope is a third consecutive state championship.
“The last two years are great and they’re memories that these kids can think about when they’re retired or in 10 years when they come to their class reunion,” head coach Mike Cutler said. “We don’t talk about last year and last year we didn’t talk about the year before because what we did last year has no influence on what we’re doing tonight for practice.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to win two state championships but we sure aren’t going to rest on our laurels and assume anything is going to happen this year.”
Cutler said it has not been difficult to steer some of the younger players in the direction of looking forward. With players growing up with the program, he said they know what the expectations are and what the coaches are looking for in each athlete.
But it's hard to overlook just how dominant the Titans have been over the past two seasons. In 25 games, Flint Creek has scored 40-plus points 22 times and 50-plus in 17 of those contests. Over those games, the Titans averaged 53.6 points per game. Defensively, the Titans have pitched eight shutouts and allowed opposing teams to score just 11.04 points per game.
Their closest game was a 34-30 victory over St. Ignatius on Oct. 20, 2017 in a game where a 22-point fourth quarter propelled them to the win. In last year's semifinals, they also won a dogfight with Shelby, 28-20. Those two games are the only contests during the current streak that were decided by one possession.
The Titans sport just three seniors this season in captains Daniel Brabender, Conley Wagner and Wyatt Rigby. Junior Kade Cutler rounds out the fourth captain spot on the roster.
Kade Cutler was the team's starting quarterback last season as a sophomore but could miss a couple of games to start this year due to a dislocated finger on his throwing hand. He saw limited time on defense before starting in the state title game against Great Falls Central. This year, he will be a two-way starter at QB and safety.
On a team with a lot of starters gone, Kade's return in two key positions will be a big help for the Titans.
"We've been really focused, lots of intensity. We're really happy to be back. It's been a long while without football and we've been missing it, that's for sure," Kade, who was all-state at QB last season, said. "Just bring intensity every day. If guys are struggling, just give them a pat on the back and lead. Be intense when it needs to be intense and be a friend when you need to be a friend. Just be there for everybody."
Mike Cutler said junior Preston Metesh, who saw some starting time last season, should be a key cog for the Titans at wide receiver, quarterback and safety. Junior Ethan Parke, junior Tucker Weaver and sophomore Avery Metesh were also players Cutler pointed to as guys who could fill some of the big shoes left behind.
“I think these kids are ready to step up,” Cutler said.
"I'm just excited because all of these kids are younger but they've gotten experience from the past couple of years because the varsity would be out at halftime," Brabender added. "They're young but they've gotten a lot of varsity experience."
Brabender was a two-way starter last season as a junior for the Titans and garnered second-team all-conference honors at outside linebacker.
"It's big shoes to fill from last year because we had such good captains," Brabender said. "We're not the same team as we were last year, but they know we still could be. They know with hard work we're still going to be that team."
The Titans lost eight lettermen from a year ago, including four seniors and all-state performers in Colby Manley, Kane Hess, Riley Allen and Luke Holland. The Titans will also be looking to replace all-state do-all standout Jaxon Lee, who transferred to Missoula Sentinel for his senior year of football. Lee recently committed to Montana.
But like Brabender and Cutler, Rigby also comes in with plenty of experience under his belt. A four-year varsity player, Rigby was a two-way starter last year and will serve as a defensive end and center and guard for the Titans this year. Last season, Rigby earned all-state accolades as a defensive end.
As a team captain, Rigby said it's all about getting the younger kids ready come game day.
"The young kids are really filling some spots well. We're younger but that doesn't change anything," Rigby said. "We're still going to do our jobs and keep grinding like we have been the past two years.
"(The last two years) helped me understand what it takes to get there (to a state title). It helped me be able to gear these younger kids up to help them know what it takes to get to that position."
Wagner, who also started last year as a safety and will play middle linebacker and fullback this season, reiterated what his coach was saying about not getting complacent after two wildly successful seasons.
"The motto we have here is, 'New team, new season,'" Wagner said. "So we just take it game by game and go out and work our butts off. We don't talk about the past years and we're always looking ahead and not in the rear-view mirror.
"It's my senior year and I just want to go out and have fun with it."
Even Cutler comes into this season with a fresh look on some things. He spent the summer as the West head coach in the East-West Shrine Game as he got a chance to work with some of the best talent Montana has to offer.
Games like that offer a renewed look for a coach. Cutler, who has been coaching football for over two decades, said it was the fourth time he has coached in the Shrine game.
"I'm learning something all of the time from those other coaches," he said. "And a lot of times, it reinforces the stuff that we're doing. I take those opportunities any chance I get."
Ironically, the last team in the 8-Man ranks to win three state titles was Drummond from 2003-2005. Now, the Titans have a chance to create history with their Drummond and Philipsburg co-op.
And if there was any lesson to glean from the past two state championships and 25 straight wins, Rigby said it's all about the dedication.
"Hard work pays off," he said. "Just keep grinding. Whatever you do, don't stop. Whether it's conditioning or drills, you just work your butt off. Your time will come and it ends up paying off eventually."