Confident Braves ready for Thursday tilt against Sentinel

Sep. 14—The Flathead Braves feel like they're making up ground on their football competition, and as an example can compare last Friday's score against Missoula Big Sky — a 21-20 loss — to last year's outcome.

Big Sky won that one 53-20.

Now the Braves head to Missoula Thursday to play Sentinel, a program that spent the first 12 seasons this century trying to tread water. Dane Oliver took over the rebuild as head coach in 2012 and in 2020-21 guided the Spartans to back-to-back AA championships.

Flathead coach Caleb Aland believes the Braves can take a similar arc.

"I think they're a pretty good football team," Aland said of the 2-1 Spartans, who fell to Gallatin in Week 2 but knocked off defending AA champion Helena Capital 17-14 last Friday. "We have to play disciplined football. But I'm really excited about the opportunity and I know our guys are. I feel like we have a different mindset than we did last year."

Sentinel is still very good, with veteran quarterback Riley Allen (.619 completion rate), receiver Grady Walker (16 catches for 182 yards) and a potent, balanced running game that's averaging 5.1 yards a carry.

"I don't think they were the same Sentinel they were in years prior," Aland said. "They're missing some pieces. But they're a disciplined football team, they have a lot of speed, and Dane Oliver has really done a good job down there."

Flathead is averaging 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, though Jaden Williams and Nolan Campbell have picked up good chunks at times. Brett Pesola has passed for 420 yards in three games, with Brody Thornsberry (10 catches, 181 yards) and Stephen Riley (9-143) both averaging at least 15.9 yards a catch.

Defense has been a different story, where a lot of Braves like Campbell — he's the top tackler — draw double duty.

"We have some missing pieces, too," Aland said. "Jordan (Griffin, a sophomore defensive back) coming in last week was a huge help. I'm looking for him to have more of an impact, offensively."

Ben Bliven, who sustained a deep leg bruise last week, is questionable to play. When he came out, Griffin came in and was a serious thorn in the Eagles' side.

"There are a lot of positives in the program right now, and I think as coaches we have to eliminate things so we're. ... confident with the game plan and confident with the play calls, offensively and defensively.

"This is one of those games where we have to focus more on the things we do well. We have good players, too, and we need to put them in position to be successful."