Charlo High School Vikings football coach Mike Krahn and his team are aware through their vast amount of playoff experience and the coaching staff that every game from the second round on will be a significant challenge.
The Vikings football players and their coaching staff will also be playing against a team they have never played against as they prepare to play Forsyth in the second round of the Montana High School Athletic Association at 1 p.m. Saturday at Forsyth High School.
The Dogies, who were part of the 2017’s reclassification are coming down from Class B, 11-man to Class C, 8-man and since moving down, has yet to lose with a 10-0 overall record (including playoffs). Krahn said his team and coaches anticipate a significant challenge in the second round.
Krahn, his Vikings players and his coaching staff have experienced this situation before.
“I think any time that you look at the brackets and typically, in the playoffs, you look at the first round games and a lot of the games look like blowouts,” Krahn said. “Once you get into that second round or any further, you look into the bracket this year and there are four teams that could win it. Those match ups get bigger and bigger with each passing round. For instance, Ennis is traveling to Belt in the second round of the playoffs and there are two teams that could easily be a semifinal match or a championship match up. There are big games this year and they are very early in the playoffs. Every team really has to put forth its best effort and hopefully each team participating in the playoffs is able to keep their health up because playing in these big games is tough.”
Krahn admitted he was “surprised” at how well the Dogies were able to transition from the 11-man to the 8-man game until he saw the name of the team’s coach. Krahn said their coach Cass Cole is a well-established fixture on the 8-man circuit and that has allowed the Dogies to have a smooth transition.
“When I looked at their 8-man team, I was kind of surprised at how they were transitioning so well,” Krahn said. “I read an article online and I know their coach. He coached in 8-man at two different schools for 17 years. Knowing him and his background, I wasn’t surprised they were able to transition into the 8-man game. Having his knowledge has really helped them this year.”
Aside from receiving excellent coaching and instruction, Forsyth also boasts of an excellent tradition in wrestling, according to Krahn.
“They are a big wrestling school and they’ve even had nationally ranked wrestlers in the past,” Krahn said. “Wrestling and football kind of go hand in hand and good wrestlers are generally good football players. The wrestlers are used to the contact and they are normally very physical. Knowing their wrestling pedigree, I would expect them to have tough and physical football players.”
One area that helped the Vikings significantly as they prepare to face the Dogies is they didn’t have to overextend themselves to defeat Joliet by defeating them with a 30-point margin.
The size of the victory surprised the Vikings’ quarterback and co-captain Landers Smith. Smith said he anticipated a battle through four quarters of play.
“I thought the game against Joliet was going to go down to the final two minutes of the fourth quarter,” Smith admitted. “Our team came out in the second half ready to play some football and we were able to take it to them. We were able to get the job done.”
Krahn said he felt his team being able to get out of the first round without having to overexert themselves was “crucial.”
“I think that is one of the worries anytime it looks like it is going to be a physical football game there is always that risk of getting into a knock down, drag out and we were able to come out of the Joliet game pretty healthy,” Krahn said. “We had to play hard and work hard to break them down but it wasn’t like the Flint Creek game which was physical on both sides. After the game, both of our teams were pretty beat up. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to start the playoffs that next week and had a couple of weeks to recover. The Joliet game really seemed like it was going to be physical. They are big and like to pound the football but we were able to come out of it pretty darn healthy.”
Krahn, his coaching staff and the players know they are going to have their collective hands full headed into the contest. The Dogies have not only beaten opponents but they’ve had quality victories including a 54-8 victory over a Fairview team that won eight of its nine games this season.
“Just looking at what they’ve done in their conference and they’ve played some very good football teams, sometimes the match up and the style can dictate what happens in the game,” Krahn said. “They are a ball control, run the football and possess the football type of team. We don’t have a lot of long drives but we are quick hitters and have big plays. The longer you are out, it can be more tiring to a defense. It can be demanding on a defense the way Forsyth controls the ball. We are going to have to get some turnovers, have long extended drives and still be able to get some points on the board.”
Smith said he felt he and his team learned a significant amount about themselves after their 46-28 loss to Flint Creek. Because Charlo lost to Flint Creek, it allowed the Titans to secure the No. 1 seed in the West.
“The Flint Creek loss was a huge setback for us and the following week we had to play Clark Fork and I had to sit because I was milking up an injury,” Smith said. “That gave us enough time to rest, recover and develop a mindset that we had to come out and play hard against any opponent in the playoffs.”
Though the loss to Flint Creek was difficult, Smith said he felt his team is now more mentally prepared for the playoffs after the loss.
“It helps our team going through an experience like that because we’ve been in those situations before and that is going to play a key role because we have to come with a good mindset and with good preparation,” Smith said. “We were prepared pretty well and know what we have to do. Now, we have to just go and do it.”
Smith knows he and his teammates will be tested as they prepare to battle the Dogies in the second round and Smith said his team is “ready” for the challenge.
“You have to think of this as a business trip and we aren’t going on a trip to have fun,” Smith said. “We have to be focused, get ready and be prepared to get the job done. That is one of my major jobs as a team captain is just making sure that everyone is comfortable in their position and everyone knows what their role is on the football field. I try to answer them in as best of a manner as possible. I let my teammates know that I am here if they have questions or keep them in line on the football field.”
Smith describes his team as a “band of brothers” or “family” and he said he felt the continuity between each other will give them a chance to overcome adversity as they attempt to climb back to the Class C, 8-man championship game.
Krahn and his team said they are “embracing” the challenge of playing one of the more difficult teams.
“We are excited and I like playing teams that we have never played before,” Krahn said. “It is always fun to play those 11-man teams and play against teams with contrasting styles. It’s always exciting to see how it turns out and it’s fun game planning and seeing what happens. Our boys are ready to take on the challenge, go down there and play this game.”