On Gallatin’s first offensive play, junior wide receiver Quinn Clark received the ball on a short jet sweep play in the backfield and sped 45 yards untouched for a touchdown.
The Raptors’ scoring didn’t always come that easily against Kalispell Flathead, but they had plenty of opportunities to get it all right.
And Gallatin’s smothering defense overwhelmed the Braves throughout the evening, leading to a brisk 38-0 victory at Van Winkle Stadium.
Even Gallatin’s special teams unit, specifically the punt returns from freshman Carter Dahlke — younger brother of starting quarterback Garrett Dahlke, made an impact by routinely setting the Raptors up with quality field position.
All around, it was an impressive showing — the kind the Raptors hope springs them to a similarly strong outing once Eastern AA play starts next Thursday.
“It got the job done, but there’s still so many things we have to clean up to give ourselves a chance against a program like Billings West,” head coach Hunter Chandler said. “They’ve kind of been the king of the East for a while now. … We can play a lot better and we expect a lot better. And we’ll have to be better next week.”
For the moment, though, the Raptors are 2-0 for the second consecutive season. They beat Missoula Big Sky 46-6 last week.
Clark’s touchdown was the only scoring of the first quarter, though the Raptors also had a drive end on downs at the 3-yard line. The spark at the start, however, was intentional.
“That was just a good way to get the ball in one of our best players’ hands,” Chandler said. “We wanted to start fast. We thought that was really important.”
On the first two plays of the second quarter, Garrett Dahlke passed for 24 yards to running back Bryce Mikkelson for a first down and then passed for 26 more to Evan Cherry for a touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Dahlke found tight end Cash Jones for an 8-yard score, and Mikkelson scored from 16 yards out on the ground for a four-touchdown lead at halftime.
All the while, Gallatin’s defense was unrelenting. The defensive line led that effort, rarely giving Flathead quarterback Jackson Walker time to throw. On one second-down play early in the second quarter, senior defensive end Aidan Martin dived in his pursuit of Walker and pulled him to the ground with just one hand.
“The defense was dominating,” Martin said succinctly.
Martin ran track as a junior, which he said helped his already blazing speed, and he bulked up to about 195 or 200 pounds, he estimates.
“I’ve always had speed. My problem’s always been size,” the 6-foot Martin said. “I’ve always had speed and quickness on my side. Just gaining some mass really helps.”
The Braves managed just one first down in the first half — on a 26-yard pass from Walker to Brody Thornsberry late in the first quarter. Otherwise, Flathead gave Gallatin’s punt return unit plenty of work.
Carter Dahlke gave Gallatin a starting point at Flathead’s 40 and twice at Flathead’s 30. On the opening kickoff of the second half, he returned the ball from the Gallatin 10 to Flathead’s 20. He gave immense credit to his 10 teammates blocking ahead of him so efficiently, which allowed him to pick up chunks of yards.
“Coach Chandler, he preaches, ‘Do your job,’” Carter said. “I just try to get as close as I can, and Garrett a lot of times finishes them off. We have a great offense and a heck of a defense. I just do my job. We all did our job, and that’s why we won this game.”
Two plays after Carter’s return to the 20, Mikkelson scored on a 13-yard run. Christian Heck kicked his fifth extra point of the evening for a 35-0 lead. Later in the third quarter, Heck tacked on a 26-yard field goal for the final margin. Neither team scored in the fourth quarter with a running clock and backups in the game.
The Raptors were not without their miscues. Carter did fumble a punt, and Garrett threw a second-quarter interception in the red zone to Flathead’s Stephen Riley. Neither play was too damaging, nor were any other blown assignments, but it’s those kinds of plays that could spell bigger trouble against West.
“We’ve got a lot of kinks to work out,” Carter said. “We’ve had two pretty good wins so far, but if we want to beat better teams, we’re gonna have to fix a lot of stuff. We’re going to come into this week ready to be better.”