By Bruce Sayler
Butte High was, perhaps, only a first down away.
The Bulldogs came out on the short end of a classic Friday night football game. Billings West nipped them 56-53 in a wild Class AA Conference high school football game that went into double overtime and doubled as Butte High’s Homecoming game at Naranche Stadium.
West’s sophomore standout DeMarcus Carr scored on a 10-yard run to end the game, the highest-scoring one in the football history shared by the two schools.
Carr’s scoring run came after junior Trevyn Roth booted a 22-yard field goal to put Butte High ahead, 53-50. It also came after Butte High quarterback Tommy Mellott, also a sophomore, scored on an 11-yard run before running in the two-point conversion to send the game to the extra overtime.
A large Homecoming crowd viewed the thriller.
Mellott Passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for two scores, too. Mellott, who ran for 91 yards, threw a pair of TD passes to junior Kash Kelly and one to sophomore Quinn Sullivan. Kelly connected with Sullivan once on a scoring throw.
Carr rushed for 108 yards and Golden Bear QB Alex Bruns passed for 248.
“It was a fun game,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said. “Our kids played hard and their kids played hard. We wanted to run a little clock at the end (of regulation time) and play some defense.”
“We had the opportunities. We just didn’t always take advantage.”
The Bulldogs held a 43-36 lead with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left in regulation after Mellott linked with Kelly on a 38-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. Roth kicked the extra point.
Butte High’s sturdy defense forced West into a three-and-out and the Bulldogs opted to run time off the clock after taking the Golden Bears’ punt.
Senior Bo Mortensen carried twice for 4 yards and Mellott hit Kelly for a 5-yard gain on third down. Butte High faced a fourth-and-one at its own 42-yard line with time winding down. Mortensen bulled ahead for just enough. Three running plays gained four yards total and the Bulldogs again faced fourth down. They elected to punt.
One more first down might’ve given them the chance to run out the clock, but the marker was six yards away. So the defense was asked to again make a stand.
Bruns was flushed from the pocket after two in-completions and scrambled for 12 yards on third down to salvage the West drive. He passed to Kaleb Hansen for 16 yards to the Butte High 21, then, after losing four yards on a sack by Corbin Walker, found Hansen again for a completion to the 3-yard line.
With only 26 seconds left on the clock, Bruns found Winston Platt alone in the end zone for a TD pass. Cody Gagnon kicked the tying extra point. A kickoff and a Butte High pass play later, regulation time ended and the game moved into overtime with the score tied 43-all.
“They handled their breaks better than we did ours,” Grey said.
West had the ball first in the Montana Playoff and at the east end zone, closer to the Golden Bears’ crowd and farther away from the home one. The ball was placed at the 10-yard line and Carr carried three straight times, reaching the end zone on a 2-yard tote. Gagnon kicked the extra point.
It was Butte High’s turn. A running play lost a yard before Mellott set up to pass, but pulled the ball back down and scrambled for the 11-yard TD run. Roth re-tied the score 50-all with the point-after kick and brought on the second overtime.
The Bulldogs took the ball first in the second extra frame and moved the site to the west end. Golden Bear Tyler Buckingham sacked Mellott for a loss of four yards on first down, then Mellott completed a throw to Kaden Hanni that reached the West 2. Mortensen was taken to the turf by Devonte Mathis for a 3-yard loss on third down. Grey summoned Roth to kick a 22-yard field goal. It was successful and the Bulldogs readied for their turn at defense, leading 53-50.
Bruns threw an in-completion on first down before Carr took the second-down hand-off and bounced his carry toward the outside and slashed into the end zone to clinch the win.
“At the end, that was a lot of pressure on our defense,” Grey said. “We have to be better in our four-minute O (offense) and get first downs.”
The overtimes were even fun for the coach, though, he said, a win would have made them much more enjoyable. He was a fan of the game’s theater.
“Seeing kids competing, taking advantage of opportunities and how they handle it,” he said, “was a lot of fun, really.”
The Bulldogs stuck immediately. The strong-legged Gagnon booted the opening kickoff over the end zone and so Butte High had first possession on its own 20-yard line. On first down, Mellott found Sullivan on his first varsity start flying down the north sideline and sprinting westward. Sullivan ran under Mellott’s pass several steps behind the West defense and outran everybody to the end zone for an 80-yard TD play on the first play of scrimmage.
The Golden Bears, however, waited only a little while to get on the scoreboard.
The teams traded fourth-down possessions. West was able to punt away, but when Butte High ran out of downs, Mellott’s punt was blocked by Cole DeVries. Si Ryan gathered it up for West and raced 24 yards for the tying touchdown.
Butte High had to punt away its next possession, but Walker forced a Golden Bear fumble on West’s next play. Marcus Garcia recovered for the Bulldogs. Mellott then flipped the ball to Kelly, who found Sullivan open again behind the Golden Bears’ secondary. The play went for a 60-yard touchdown.
The 14-7 lead gain lasted until the Golden Bears’ next play. The kickoff return put them in business at their own 39 and then Bruns fired a strike to Jesse Owens streaking down the middle of the field. It was a 69-yard scoring pass and tied the score at 14-all.
Butte High finished off a 52-yard drive with a 5-yard power run by Mortensen. Mellott’s completions of 17 and 28 yards to Kelly kept the march intact.
A two-point conversion try failed and West took its first lead seconds later. Teddy Krogh returned the kickoff 97 yards for a Golden Bear touchdown and Gagnon kicked the PAT for a 21-20 West edge.
Several dropped passes and false-start penalties hampered the Bulldogs in the first half.
“We had a fast start and need to continue to do that,” Grey said. “But we made some errors — a lot of little things by us and one big one by me, a bad call. That one’s on me.”
The Golden Bears grew their lead to 28-20 on an 81-yard TD pass play from Bruns to Krogh. The Bulldogs answered with a 62-yard drive capped by Mellott spinning his way to an 18-yard TD scamper out of the pocket.
Greyson Mandic of Butte High chased down a bad West snap and gave the Bulldogs possession at the Golden Bears’ 17-yard line. Roth cashed in the opportunity with a 27-yard field goal for a 30-28 Bulldog lead 2:44 before halftime. Butte High’s defense forced the Golden Bears into a three-and-out, and the Bulldogs set up shop on their own 46-yard line. Five plays later, Mellott threw to Kelly, who spun away from a defender and dashed into the end zone to complete a 33-yard scoring play.
Butte High took a 36-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.
West received the second-half kickoff and Bruns capped a 71-yard drive with a keeper for a 13-yard TD lope. He passed to Ryan for the 2-point conversion and tied the score at 3-all.
Trades of possessions ate up the rest of the third quarter.
A Butte High drive threatened to die after an in-completion and sack put the Bulldogs in a third-and-14 situation at the West 38. Mellott saw Kelly speeding and open along the south sideline. Kelly lunged for the catch going into the end zone as the Bulldogs grabbed a 43-36 edge.
It held until West’s late rally.
The Bulldogs used more players and personnel combinations than they had in previous games. They suffered a couple of losses, though, when special teams player Calvin Snow and linebacker Garcia both left with injuries. The seriousness of either was not known Friday night.
“We’re getting some depth,” Grey said about more players seeing time. “We were able to play a lot of kids tonight.”
Sullivan caught five passes for 148 yards and Kelly snared six for 109 to lead the Butte High receivers. Walker led in tackles with 11. Rylan Waananen and Robin Bagley each tallied a sack, and Jeff Queer and Waananen each registered three tackles for loss of yardage.
Krogh and Owens each caught three passes for more than 90 yards each to lead the West receiving corps. Buckingham led all tacklers with 12. DeVries and Connor Paul each had two sacks and the Golden Bears caught Butte High ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage a dozen times. Four of those stops were made by Buckingham.
The win was West’s fourth straight and puts the Golden Bears at 4-2 for the year.They will return home to play Helena Capital next weekend. Butte High is 2-4 and will be at home again next Friday, playing against Billings Senior.