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District champion Tigers ready for playoffs

by JOSH MCDONALD
Staff Reporter | November 2, 2021 4:40 PM

MULLAN — After sitting idle for a week, the time has finally come for the Mullan/St. Regis Tigers to see their first playoff football action and this one is going to be a fight.

After clinching a first round bye via their undefeated North Star League season, Head Coach Stetson Spooner and his crew of district champions waited anxiously to find out who they’d face in their quarterfinal matchup this week.

They got their answer.

Following their 54-6 beatdown of Timberline, the Carey Panthers earned the right to host Mullan in what is set to be a titanic matchup of ranked 1A D2 teams.

Undefeated Carey is ranked No. 1 in the state and boasts wins over several top flight opponents, including last year’s champs from Dietrich.

Mullan has flirted with the top five in the media polls all season long, but even with an impressive 7-1 record, Spooner has rarely allowed his team to embarrass their opposition.

The Tigers routinely held 30-plus point leads at halftime, only for him to rest his starters and give the freshmen and sophomore guys get some valuable reps.

The fact that they really only played two thirds of the snaps in their games makes the Tigers’ statistics even more impressive — especially when you factor that one of their wins was a forfeit.

Junior quarterback Caleb Ball has completed 34 of 51 passes for 14 touchdowns and no interceptions, while also carrying the ball 48 times for 563 yards and seven touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the vaunted two-headed rushing attack of Luke Trogden and Adam Ball (the latter of whom only played in six games) made statistical waves despite their reduced snap count. Trogden carried the ball just 44 times and totaled up 748 yards and 14 touchdowns, he also caught eight passes, five of which resulted in scores.

Ball, who sat out of the season finale with cramps, totaled 888 yards this year on 41 carries and 11 touchdowns — he also added one touchdown reception.

This big three has run through almost everyone that they encountered this year, with the lone exception of their season opener against Montana’s top 8-man team from Thompson Falls, which was a competitive game to the final whistle.

Spooner did the math and the gaudy numbers become even more jarring when he explains them.

“Every 3.8 touches for those three statistically results in a touchdown, which is pretty close to what we had going last year,” Spooner said. “But what’s different this year is that when you include Blake Layton and Floyd Nelson, that number actually gets lower.”

Layton and Nelson are the Tigers’ underclassmen wide receivers who collectively added 18 catches for 450 yards and eight more touchdowns.

Which means that anytime these five guys get involved in an offensive play, roughly every 3.5 plays result in a Tiger touchdown.

Which Spooner aptly describes as “nutty.”

Carey is going to present a unique challenge for the Tigers that they haven’t seen since that week one tilt with Thompson Falls, and after watching film Spooner has the utmost respect for his opposition.

“Their defensive line has an incredible motor,” Spooner said. “They run some similar stuff offensively as we do, but they definitely get after it on both sides of the ball.”

Legitimately, the Tigers are just three wins from a state championship, and will likely face the steepest opposition of the entire playoff in this opening game, but they’ll have to do it on the road in front of a hostile crowd.

“I’m proud of the work my guys have put in this season,” Spooner said. “Each year we’ve taken at least one step toward a state title, whether it was hosting a playoff game two years ago, or winning one and playing in two last year. This year we have to start on the road and if we win then we’re back at home next week. I think we’re ready for that next step.”

Mullan will play at Carey High School this Saturday at noon (PST) in the State 1A D2 Quarterfinals.