The Polson Pirates football team’s fortune have abruptly changed from its bleak outlook two weeks ago to now two consecutive victories away from potentially capturing the conference championship.
The Pirates’ 16-10 victory over Whitefish has changed the complexion of their season and their playoff prospects but their upcoming game against Browning is essentially a playoff game, according to Pirates’ head coach Pat Danley.
“It is a playoff game or least an elimination game for us and realistically, we are going to have to win,” Danley said. “If we don’t win against Browning, then it doesn’t matter (for us) in terms of playoffs.”
The Pirates, now at virtually full strength, have won the last two contests with their starting backfield intact. The returns of Colton Cote and Koby Garcia from injuries have solidified the Pirates backfield.
Danley said he felt his team’s offense just continues to improve on a weekly basis.
“I think obviously we just continue to get a little bit better each week,” Danley said. “Our offensive line has played much better and it has helped tremendously that both Colton and Koby are back. They have really helped our offense. I would say their return is probably the biggest difference.”
According to Danley, if the Pirates were to lose this week against Browning they would be eliminated from playoff contention. Because of the finality of the season, Danley and his coaching staff said they felt they didn’t have to emphasize the point that their match up with the Indians is critical to the lifeblood of the Pirates’ season.
“We hope the kids know how important the game is and because of that, we certainly don’t have to change up much of it,” Danley said. “At this time of the season, you have the monotony of doing everything the same. We try to change a few things up and obviously we have to approach each practice to breakup the monotony. We don’t have to tell the kids how big this game is, especially for the seniors because they won’t have many more chances to play football in high school. They want to take advantage of their opportunities in order to keep their season going.”
One major difference between the Pirates four losses and two wins is their ability to score early. In the Pirates four losses they failed to score early in the game. In Polson’s two victories they scored first, Danley said.
“In the past few games, we have scored first and it has made a huge difference for us in terms of momentum and what we could do (offensively),” Danley said. “That completely changed what we could do on each possession.”
Danley attributes the Pirates flexibility on offense to the return of the two running backs. Danley said he felt the two backs have opened up the passing game.
“Their return has helped tremendously because we’ve been able to control the clock a little bit more and pass when we wanted to rather than when we had to,” Danley said. “During our second drive, we had great ball control and we were able to run the ball down the field and ended up scoring on a pass. We drove the ball for 80-plus yards and scored on a short pass.”
As the Pirates prepare to play Browning they aren’t going to play the same team they’ve played in the past.
In the Indians three victories over opponents, they’ve outscored their opponents 164-40. In their four losses, they were outscored 197-68.
“They are a much improved program from previous years,” Danley said. “They used to be the traditional doormat of the entire state. They are in position, if they can win out, they will be a playoff team and that is a huge improvement from previous years. We’ve played them in many years. In the past, it’s always been non-conference. This year the game is a little different because they are not only better than they were typically (in the past) but it’s a conference game and will affect the conference standings.”
Danley acknowledged the Indians have a lot of weapons on offense.
“They have a pretty decent balance of run-pass and they have pretty good athletes at quarterback,” Danley said. “Browning is fairly big up front and their offense is a bigger strength than their defense. We are going to have a very tough time completely shutting them down and we have to score against them rather than expecting to win a game 16-10. It is going to be difficult offensively because they are a little bit better than the last couple of teams we’ve played.”
On the defense and the offensive line, the Indians will have a size advantage against the Pirates.
“On defense, they are fairly big and they will bring a lot of pressure,” Danley said. “They are going to have a four down lineman instead of three but that isn’t anything our team hasn’t seen before in terms of alignment and I expect them to bring a lot of pressure.”
If the Pirates were to defeat Browning, they could still qualify for the playoffs if they ever lose to Columbia Falls and Ronan loses its final two road games against Libby and Browning.
“Our first thing is that we have to take care of our business and not worry about what Ronan is doing,” Danley said. “We have to go out there and beat Browning. If we do that, we can go from there.”
Danley said there were a couple of major contributors that allowed Polson to get a victory over Whitefish Friday night.
One of the players was kicker Connor Lanier, who made a critical 40-yard field goal attempt and had some key punts that forced the Bulldogs to drive the length of the field, Danley said. The other player doesn’t typically get a lot of playing time for the Pirates but made a lot of his limited playing time.
With Whitefish driving late in the game towards a potential winning touchdown, Pirates lineman Bradon Williams got a key sack and the Bulldogs without timeouts couldn’t get back to the line of scrimmage.
“Williams’ play was a huge play for him and our team,” Danley said. “I am really excited. He did not play until this year and he came up with a big play.”
From here on out Danley acknowledged his team has to take care of business.
“We can’t worry about Columbia Falls yet because we have to do what we can do against Browning and go from there,” Danley said.