The Mission High School football team has revamped itself as the Montana High School Association, Class C, 8-man football team concludes the first half of the football season.
Bulldogs’ coach Tyler Murray returned a total of 13 seniors at the start of the season, and under Murray’s guidance, Mission has improved to 3-1 on the season.
The Bulldogs, 3-1 after their 68-30 shellacking over Troy Friday night, now positions them as they prepare to head into a critical home match up with the Charlo Vikings at 7 p.m. Friday in Mission.
Murray knows there will be little margin for error as his team heads into the critical conference contest.
With the competitive landscape of the conference, Murray is aware there is little margin for error, as his team heads into this critical conference showdown.
Another loss would put Mission, a team that is trying to catapult themselves into their first MHSA Class C, 8-man football playoffs, since 2002 when they were in 11-man football.
Murray, now in his third year as the Bulldogs’ head coach, said his team is looking forward to the challenge of playing their Mission-Valley rival, a group that has been in the top-tier of the MHSA Class C, 8-man Western football conference since the mid-2010s.
“The Vikings are an interesting team, but they started the year a bit slow and having watched Plains and Arlee in person, they have improved a bunch since week one,” Murray said. “I think they are a good opponent and have a good game-plan with Allick, and Wrangler Gaustad.”
There may be more undercurrents in the story line for the Bulldogs, besides wanting to knock off their Mission Valley rivals.
The MHSA Class C,8-man Western portion of the conference is hyper competitive with a limited margin for error, and according to Murray, if you lose two conference games, you might be on the fringe of qualifying for the playoffs. Three conference losses could prove to be fatal.
“Charlo is an exciting team, and I would say this year they started a bit slow (with the loss to Plains), but since the start of the season, they’ve improved a bunch,” Murray said.
Since 2016, which was former Vikings and current Montana Tech player Landers Smith’s sophomore year, Charlo has been one of the most potent offenses in the state of Montana for their classification, and this year under new coach Reese Cox, and without Landers, the Vikings’ offensive philosophy is predicated on the run.
With a win over Charlo, the Bulldogs can put themselves in the conversation of competing for a playoff spot in the second half of the season, something they narrowly missed.
“This conference race is going to be close and we need to win this week,” Murray said. “I stay mostly on what I tell them, and when to peak as to what is ahead.”
With so many critical games ahead for Mission, Murray is taking the philosophical approach he learned while at his alma mater at Western Montana University.
“I take the philosophical approach I learned from a college coach of mine, and I try to carry it over from the game,” Murray said. “You try to go 1-0, and every play that you win, you must take care of the little things. You might find yourself in a good position by the end of the season.”
Charlo boasts of some high-performing running backs, but Mission has a backfield of their own, and with the 13 senior leaders that some of them have a total of three years of varsity experience, they have more than their fair share of fire-power headed into this critical conference showdown.
Murray gave credit to the adaptation of his entire team, both upper and lower classmen, but cited the play of three impact Bulldogs’ players: Layne Spidel, Troy Matt and Jedi Christy.
“Matt and Spidel together are fun to watch, and they are very talented, and our subs freshmen, or our sub players they scored two touchdowns in the game,” Murray said. “Jedi Christy is also very talented, and a fun player to watch.”
Charlo, a team that Mission has had trouble over-hauling the past few seasons, will have to overhaul this year in order to maintain their relevance in a tight conference race log-jammed with good teams such as Seeley and Clark Fork, and also cluttered with teams with storied pasts such as Charlo and Arlee, with Thompson Falls in their first-ever season of Class C, 8-man football. This makes the dynamic of qualifying for the playoffs difficult.
Murray, whose team has a conference record of 2-1, isn’t phased by the challenge.
“In the Western C, you aren’t going to have too many losses on your record, and you can’t have more than two or three,” Murray said. “If you have two, you are on the outside looking in, and it’s going to come down a tie-breaker. Our team has to go out and make sure we take care of business.”
Long Standing Vikings tradition
If Mission were to overhaul the Charlo Vikings, they would put themselves in the upper brass of the conference.
This won’t be an easy task considering they’ve fallen to them the previous three seasons.
Charlo boasts of some top-tier talent, in spite of losing quarterback Landers Smith to graduation.
The Vikings attack is predicated primarily on the run with running back Isaiah Allik, with carried the football 19 times for a total of 119 yards, and a 47-yard touchdown run.
Charlo has also recent playoff success on it’s side.
During the Vikings’ recent playoff run, they finished second in the Montana High School Association Class C, 8-mah football tournament in 2016. In 2017, they qualified for the MHSA Class C, 8-man quarterfinals, and are looking to qualify for the playoffs again in 2019 under their first-year coach Reese Cox.
Charlo continues to make progress under Cox, and many of the coaches have noticed the Vikings have continued to improve as Cox has eased into his position.
The Vikings, are slowly returning to the dominant teams they’ve been in year’s past, as they look to qualify for the MHSA Class C, 8-man football playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season in which they reached the quarterfinals.