By Bruce Sayler
Friday’s Butte Central-Stevensville high school football matchup looms as a loser-out game for the state Class A playoffs, which are only two weeks away.
The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff in Stevensville. Butte Central will enter with a 3-3 overall record that includes an 0-3 Southwestern A Conference ledger. The Yellowjackets show 2-3 and 1-2 marks. (Radio: KOPR 94.1 or online)
“The loser will be out of the wild-card picture, so it has huge implications for that,” Don Peoples Jr., head coach of the Maroons, said. “It will be a tough road game. I think they’re a little bit like us in that they’re a good football team that has some losses.”
The BC team began the season with easy wins over three non-conference opponents, but then went up against a wall of three contending conference foes and came out on the short end of all three scores. Stevi, however, began a little slower on the year and has been experiencing more success as of late.
Last weekend’s slate saw Butte Central fall 40-19 to Hamilton while Stevensville defeated Corvallis 31-20.
“We know it will be a tough game,” Peoples said. “There is a lot on the line. Our last three opponents, I believe, are among the top teams in Class A and we competed well, but we didn’t do the little things you need to do to win.”
Past seasons have seen the Yellowjackets operate as a run-heavy team, but there’s been some differentiation with a new emergence of on offense. Head coach Troy Tack has made more use of the quarterback-receiver combination of Garrison Bradt and Alex Gavlak.
“They’re pretty balanced this year,” Peoples said. “They will go with a one-back set or a no-back, or, at other times, will run the ball really hard.
“Gavlak is a big-play receiver. Plus, they have a couple of really big kids on the line and are a decent-sized football team.”
Bradt is a 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior and the quick and speedy Gavlak is a senior, who is as dangerous on returns as he is on catches. He plays linebacker on defense is one of the Stevi stars on that side of the bal, as well. Gavlak averages 20.3 yards per reception and has 304 receiving yards this year, ranking fourth in the conference.
Bradt has completed 30 of 58 passes for 522 yards. His other targets include 6-1, 170-pound junior wide-out Payton Davids and 6-1, 160-pound senior twins Dustin and Justin Saxon.
The running game is led by 6-0, 185-pound junior David Haacke and 5-10, 150-pound senior Kaleb Behner.
Gsvlak has scored eight touchdowns. Dustin Saxon and 5-10, 165-pound senior defensive end Hunter Riley have two quarterback sacks each, and Gavlak, Jared Gum and 6-2, 280-pound junior tackle Kellen Jones are the team’s leading tacklers.
Butte Central was without junior quarterback Cade Holter and junior running back Clay Fisher in the loss to Hamilton because of concussions suffered the week before at Frenchtown. Fisher is back with the team this week, but Holter will be held out another week.
“Cade’s better, but he has not passed completely on protocol,” Peoples said.
Sophomore Thomas McGree will be back at the offensive controls.
“We had a good week of practice,” Peoples said. “We feel good about the way Thomas played last week. With another week of practice at quarterback, he should be more comfortable and more ready to execute our offense.”
McGree threw a touchdown pass to senior Allen Boyle against Hamilton. The other two Maroon TDs in the game were by senior running back Ryan Moodry on carries. McGree, though, completed a respectable 15 of 29 passes for 182 yards. He has been on the receiving end of four touchdowns this year as one of Holter’s main weapons.
Moodry punched the clock for a workmanlike effort against Hamilton, packing the ball 38 times for 151 yards, catching two passes for 13 yards and throwing one for 11.
“We can be a really good football team,” Peoples said.
Statistics support. Holter is among the Southwestern A leaders in both passing and rushing. Moodry is second in rushing with 6-6 yards and BC’s leading receiver is sophomore tight end Matt Simkins with 236 yards, Fisher is among the league leaders in rushing, receiving and returns. Junior cornerback Aidan Petritz has five interceptions, ranking second in the conference. McGree is also one of the better return men in Southwestern A.
“Last week, we were maybe the most balanced on offense we’ve been,” Peoples said. “We mixed the run and the pass pretty equally and we felt like there were two times we should’ve scored and didn’t. So, we’re that close to being the team we need to be.”
The BC defense will need to be staunch against a Stevi team looking constantly to break a big play. The Maroons are out of wiggle room when it comes to postseason possibilities.
“We’ve always has as our No. 1 goal to make the playoffs,” Peoples said. “So, we’re really excited to get back on the field and put things together.”
Butte Central probable starters follow:
Offense — Center — Saxon Walton, 6-2, 195, senior. Guards — Zeb Antonioli, 6-3, 285, senior, and Seth Gardner, 6-3, 270, junior. Tackles — Hunter Hartwick, 5-10, 180, senior, and Aaron Richards, 6-4, 250, sophomore. Tight end — Matt Simkins, 6-4, 185, sophomore. Wide receivers — Allen Boyle, 5-11, 165, senior, and Clay Fisher, 5-9, 165, junior, or Trevor Neumann, 5-10, 155, sophomore. Running backs — Ryan Moodry, 5-10, 190, senior, and Fisher or Dylan Shea, 5-10, 170, senior. Quarterback — Thomas McGree, 5-11, 170, sophomore.
Defense — Tackles — Zeb Antonioli, 6-3, 285, senior, and Aaron Richards, 6-4, 250, sophomore. Ends — Hunter Hartwick, 5-10, 180, senior, and Matt Simkins, 6-4, 185, sophomore. Linebackers — Clay Fisher, 5-9, 165, junior; Ryan Moodry, 5-10, 190, senior, and Dylan Shea, 5-10, 170, senior. Cornerbacks — Allen Boyle, 5-11, 175, senior, and Aidan Petritz, 6-0, 170, junior. Safeties — Thomas McGree, 5-11, 170, sophomore, and Trevor Neumann, 5-10, 155, sophomore, or Jared Simkins, 6-4, 185, sophomore.