By Bruce Sayler
Butte Central will be trying to encore in its opener on last week’s impressive 39-7 victory that began the Maroons’ high school football season.
The BC boys will be taking on Whitefish on Friday at 7 p.m. to launch the home portion of their schedule at Bob Green Field on the Montana Tech campus. It will be a non-conference Class A test, but holds merit importance toward the postseason more than a month away.
Butte Central’s 2017 debut was the lopsided non-conference win at Ronan. Junior quarterback Cade Holter ran for one touchdown and passed for another — a 55-yard connection with sophomore Thomas McGree. Senior running back Ryan Moodry gained 105 yards, including a touchdown, despite sharing ball-toting duties with junior Clay Fisher. Fisher came out of the contest with two 7-yard TD runs while gaining 58 yards. McGree was the leading receiver, and the defense was sparked by sacks from senior linebacker Dylan Shea, senior end Hunter Hartwick and sophomore tackle Aaron Richards. Reserve defensive back Egan Lester, a freshman, returned a pass interception 45 yards for a touchdown late in the game.
“We feel like it was a good start,” Don Peoples Jr., head coach of the Maroons, said. “But a lot of things change between games one and two. Our mission all week was to improve and get better.”
A big change for Week 2 is the opponent. Whitefish is bringing along a probable contender fulll of promising juniors and sophomores groomed by veteran head coach Chad Ross and his staff. The Bulldogs have taken their lumps so far, losses of 35-3 to Frenchtown and 47-10 to Hamilton. However, Peoples pointed out that Frenchtown and Hamilton — two squads the Maroons will play later in the Southwestern A Conference slate — are both 2-0 so far this fall.
“Whitefish has played two really good football teams,” the BC coach said. “But we saw (the Bulldogs) at camp this summer and they have some really good players. This will be a big challenge for us.”
Whitefish seems to have been trying to capitalize on good backfield speed while bringing along sophomore quarterback Justin Conklin (6-foot, 160 pounds). Too much defensive concentration on the running attack, though, and the Bulldogs will have no qualms about flipping out a pass, just for honesty’s sake.
Senior Forrest Kobelt can also see duty at QB while 5-10, 190-pound senior Luke Schwaiger is a key member of the Bulldogs’ stable of ball-carriers. Receiver Mark Anderson has the team’s only touchdown this year, a short pass from Conklin. Caleb Meehan, a 5-8, 140-pound senior, lines up at either running back or receiver, depending on the play-call and how best to use his quickness. An emerging lineman is 6-0, 235-pound junior Keegan Wold.
“Some of those guys were there when they won the (2015) state (Class A) championship,” Peoples noted. “We expect them to be a run-heavy offense and to pass at times. On defense, they’ll put eight in the box and try to stop the run. So, they will be a challenge.”
Some games around the state, especially in the western parts, are being postponed or relocated this week because of the wildfire smoke clouding the area. Peoples said so far, so good for the Butte Central-Whitefish clash, but watch is being kept on the situation.
“It’s not going to go away for a while,” he commented about the wildfire smoke. “But, you hope that they can get it knocked down, at least some (for health concerns of the population).”
The running game was a bright spot for BC last week and how it responds to Whitefish’s defensive focus will be an interesting scene.
“We were really happy with Ryan and Clay running the ball,” Peoples said. “Cade ran the ball well, too. We saw some good things out of the receiver. We saw some experience things, too, though, that we hope we get better about each week.”
Sophomore Jared Simkins, who rotated in at cornerback on defense, and with his twin brother, Matt, on offense at tight end, will be sidelined with a hamstring injury, Peoples said. Another change is Shea moving out of the offensive line, from center to an H-back role to boost blocking in the power game. Saxon Walton will take over at center.
The probable starters on offense, then, are Walton (6-2, 195, senior) at center, Zeb Antonioli (6-3, 285, and Seth Gardner (6-3, 270) at the guards, Hartwick (5-10, 180, senior, and Richards (6-4, 250, sophomore) at the tackles, Matt Simkins (6-4, 185, sophomore) at tight end, McGree (5-11, 179 sophomore) and Allan Boyle (5-11, 165, senior) at wide receiver, Shea (5-10. 170 senior) at H-back, Moody (5-10, 190) and Fisher (5-9, 165) at running back, and Holter (6-0, 175) at quarterback.
The defensive probable starters are Richards and Antonioli at the tackles, Hartwick and Simkins at the ends, Shea at middle linebacker, Moodry and Fisher at outside linebacker, Aidan Petritz (6-0, 170 junior) and Boyle at cornerback, McGree at strong safety and Holter at free safety.
“Whitefish will be well-coached ad ready to play,” Peoples said. “We’re excited to play at home. We can really use a home game. So, we’re happy to play.
“Let’s hope Mother Nature lets us.”