Beavers break BC hearts in title game

Butte Central fans stayed long after, some seeming to search the Bob Green Field artificial turf with sad eyes and what-does-it-take? puzzlement, wondering where that one play could be, the one seemingly left on the surface.

Defending champion Dillon topped Butte Central, by only a point but certainly still good enough for a victory, 29-28 in the state championship game of the Class A high school football playoffs Saturday in front of possibly a record crowd of more than 5,000 at the Montana Tech facility.

Dillon fans stayed long, too, maybe even longer. They celebrated, of course. They’ve done that a lot. The Beavers hadn’t won a state football championship until 2000 and had only played in one title tilt before then. They’ve been collecting titles this century. Now they have seven, including two in a row and three in the last four years. They’ve been second twice since 2000.

But the Dillon fans might’ve been making sure, too, the Maroons never found that missing play and weren’t leaving until everyone was gone. It was a long comeback for the Beavers from two-touchdown deficits twice and capped with a three-TD effort in the final period.

And the deciding plays, the possibly deciding plays, were all so close.

Heck, a successful two-point conversion, one Dillon head coach Rick Nordahl wasn’t even going to attempt until a penalty made the situation more favorable, proved to be the difference. Worse, for Maroon fans, the PAT kick first tried after Jason Ferris’ second touchdown, had been blocked by Butte Central’s Cole Harper and the Maroons seemed to hold the one-point edge, 28-27, with 2 ½ minutes left to play.

However, the officials ruled a Butte Central player offside, marched the ball half the distance toward the goal line and called for a do-over. With the ball almost at the goal line, the next decision was easy for Nordahl — go for two and the lead.

Star quarterback J.D. Ferris was flushed from the pocket by hard-charging Maroon All-State end Marcus Ferriter and chased nearly to the Dillon sideline. The QB floated a high pass off his back foot in what almost looked like a Hail Mary try. The Beavers’ Nate Simkins, a 5-foot-10 receiver leaped high into the air, surrounded by several players, and pulled the pass down in the end zone.

Dillon had the lead. The Beavers kept it.

“A lot of heroic plays were made today by both teams,” Butte Central head coach Don Peoples Jr. said after the classic had ended. “I thought we had the game if we could just make one more play, get one more first down with about seven minutes to go. Dillon made good plays.
“We congratulate Dillon.”

Time remained for a Maroon drive. Blake Burton scooped a squibber on the kickoff and took it up to the Butte Central 43-yard line, a good launching spot. Quarterback Danny Peoples threw a completion to Harper over the middle and the Maroon receiver turned it upfield. However, Simkins sneaked behind him and punched the ball out of Harper’s grasp. It took a bounce, a Sunday hop right into the arms of Dillon’s Justin Ferris.

The Beavers reached two first downs to maintain possession and time expired.

“It was an awesome game,” Nordahl, winning his second state crown in two years at the Dillon helm, said. “We really responded in the fourth quarter. J.D., we put the ball in his hands and he was making plays and that’s what we wanted him to do.”

Nordahl said earlier in the week that he believed that if there was still time on the clock, the Beavers always had a chance with J.D. Ferris in the game. The statement proved prophetic.

The Beavers led only twice, 7-0 and 29-28. The Maroons gave up the early TD to J.D. Ferris on a 1-yard keeper to finish a 68-yard drive from the opening kickoff, then came back to own a 14-7 margin at halftime.

Danny Peoples found Dalton Sessions for two touchdown throws in the second period. One measured nine yards and the other 16. The latter was set up by a flea-flicker play that wound up with Peoples taking a pitch back from Kyle Harrington and passing downfield to Harper for a 24-yard gain and first down on the Beavers’ 27-yard line. The Beavers almost answered just before halftime, but Butte Central’s Cal Hollow outbattled a Dillon receiver at the goal line and snagged the interception to snuff the threat.

The Maroons received the second half kickoff and cashed it in for a quick scoring drive — most of it on a 29-yard Peoples-to-Chad Peterson connection — and led 21-7 after Peoples kept and followed fullback Kaemen Richards’ snowplow impression two yards into the end zone.

The Beavers fumbled the kickoff and Butte Central had a golden opportunity to widen the gap. Hollow recovered the fumble. However, penalties and a fumble bogged the Maroons down and they wound up having to punt the opportunity away. The teams traded three-and-outs until Dillon scored on a 17-yard up-the-middle burst by Jason Ferris to end a 66-yard drive on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The next series saw the Maroons receive two good runs from Harrington that netted 18 yards before Peoples hit Peterson in the middle of the field on a pass play that traveled 57 yards for a touchdown. Butte Central had regained its two-touchdown lead, 28-14, with 10 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game.

J.D. Ferris guided the Beavers on a march that reached the Maroons’ 2-yard line where Dillon faced a third-and-goal. Jason Ferris took the handoff from his cousin and was smothered for a 1-yard loss by Jake Michelotti and Kyle Schulte. J.D. Ferris crashed into the line after not being able to pass on fourth down due to pressure from Ferriter.

He was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Richards and Michelotti, and the Beavers turned the ball over on downs.

The Maroons gained two first downs before having to punt. Dillon set up shop on its own 32-yard line and, three plays later, J.D. Ferris flung a pass to Tyler Van Slyke that went 57 yards for a touchdown. The score was 28-21 in favor of Butte Central with 4:21 on the clock.

The Beavers forced the Maroons into a three-and-out with Ely Christensen’s tackle for a 2-yard loss on Harrington the key element.

Dillon had the ball on its own 44-yard line.

J.D. Ferris completed three passes in four attempts on the drive, gaining 34 yards through the air before giving to Jason Ferris for the 22-yard touchdown run that set up the final drama that saw the Beavers emerge as champions.

“We just needed one more stop or one more play,” coach Peoples said. “(The Beavers) played great and I thought our kids played great. I’m proud of our kids. I told them that when they get back to our locker room, they can look themselves in the face in the mirror and know they gave their all.”

The Maroons were seeking their first championship since 1973 and were in only their third title tilt since then despite going to the playoffs now 20 of the 25 years Peoples has been the head coach.

One of those plays the coach had hoped for seemed to materialize after Peterson’s touchdown when Dalton Sessions looked to have intercepted a Dillon pass and given his team terrific field position at the Beavers’ 10-yard line. However, contact with the receiver occurred on the play and officials flagged Sessions for interference.

Almosts aren’t good enough against a team that makes very few mistakes, sometimes none. Still, the intensity of the game caused some and such and hows in accordance to them are what create championships.

Getting the first down after taking the lead and recovering the fumble was, perhaps, the ultimate key for the Beavers, Nordahl said.

“We’d gotten down there and didn’t score,” he noted about the Butte Central goal-line stand earlier, “and then we fumbled the kickoff.”

So, there was no relief until the putaway was complete.

“We got some life late in the game,” Nordahl said.

Dillon assistant coach Steve Vezina noted before the game that “Butte Central was the best team we played this year” in a reference to the regular-season meeting between the Southwestern A Conference rivals that ended in a 31-27 Maroon win.

Vezina was to go to Salt Lake City Saturday night to resume his battle with cancer, a source said.

Butte Central was ranked No. 2 in the last statewide media Class A power poll and Dillon was ranked No. 4. The Beavers spilled the three teams ahead of them in rankings in the playoffs, knocking off top-ranked Belgrade in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Billings Central in the semifinals before Saturday’s win over Butte Central.

Both Dillon and Butte Central finished the season with 10-2 records, Saturday’s win by the Beavers snapping the Maroons’ win streak at 10 games. Dillon avenged both of its losses by defeating Billings Central (21-19) and Butte Central in the playoffs.

J.D. Ferris completed 20 of 30 passes Saturday for 276 yards including a touchdown. He was intercepted once. Simkins was the Beavers’ leading receiver with seven catches for 95 yards, though Van Slyke had 110 yards on two receptions. Jason Ferris carried the ball seven times for 70 yards. The Beavers were led on defense by Justin Ferris with an interception and a fumble recovery, and R.J. Fitzgerald, Christensen, Bill Bramlet and Jason Ferris with tackles for loss. The Ferrises are all first cousins.

Harrington carried 27 time for 90 yards and Richards had 88 yards on 12 carries to pace the Butte Central ground game. Peoples passed 20 times and completed 10 for 196 yards, suffering one interception. Three of his passes were touchdowns. Richards and Hollow each recovered a fumble, Hollow had an interception and Ferriter, Harrington, Liam Doran, Michelotti, Richards and Schulte all had tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Ferriter and Harrington teamed on a sack. Frank Hendrickson and Nate McGree had touchdown-saving tackles on long plays. Peterson caught three passes for 96 yards.

“I’d like to thank the town of Butte for all the support,” Don Peoples Jr. said as he looked around at the stands and the crowd that was making its way out of the stadium on a day in Butte that now seemed even colder to Maroon fans.

Dillon                         7          0          0          22 — 29
Butte Central            0          14        7          7 — 28
First Quarter

DIL — J.D. Ferris 1 run (Payton Lafrentz kick), 7:48.
Drive — 68 yards in 13 plays. Key play — Justin Ferris 27-yard pass from J.D. Ferris to Butte Central 25-yard line.
Second Quarter
BC — Dalton Sessions 9 pass from Danny Peoples (Peoples kick), 9:40.
Drive — 75 yards in 16 plays. Key play — Chad Peterson 10-yard pass from Peoples to Dillon 9-yard line on 4th-and-4.
BC — Sessions 16 pass from Peoples (Peoples kick), 4:48.
Drive — 50 yards in 8 plays. Key play — Cole Harper 24-yard pass from Peoples on flea-flicker to Dillon 27-yard line.
Third Quarter
BC — Peoples 2 run (Peoples kick), 7:13.
Drive — 53 yards in 10 plays. Key play — Chad Peterson 29-yard pass from Peoples to Dillon 13-yard line.
Fourth Quarter
DIL — Jason Ferris 17 run (Lafrentz kick), 11:58.
Drive — 66 yards in 6 plays. Key play — Nate Simkins 27-yard pass from J.D. Ferris to Butte Central 25-yard line.
BC — Chad Peterson 57 pass from Peoples (Peoples kick), 10:45.
Drive — 75 yards in 3 plays. Key play — Scoring play.
DIL — Tyler Van Slyke 57 pass from J.D. Ferris (Lafrentz kick), 4:21.
Drive — 68 yards in 3 plays. Key play — Scoring play.
DIL — Jason Ferris 22 run (Nate Simkins pass from J.D. Ferris), 2:30.
Drive — 56 yards in 5 plays. Key play — Trae Williams 11-yard pass from J.D. Ferris to Butte Central 22-yard line.

                                                  Dil                BC
First downs                               24                 19
Rushes-yards                     29-110          47-184
Passes                               20-30-1        10-20-1
Passing yards                          276               196
Sacks-yards lost                  1-2                0-0
Total yards                              386               380
Return yards                             49                   0
Punts-avg.                          3-27.7          5-34.2
Fumbles-lost                           3-2                5-1
Penalties-yards                        1-5              6-65

Individual Statistics
RUSHING — Dillon, Jason Ferris 7-70, J.D. Ferris 14-39, Nate Simkins 1-4, Justin Ferris 1-1, Tyler Van Slyke 2-0, Team (4-(-4). Butte Central, Kyle Harrington 27-90, Kaemen Richards 12-88, Danny Peoples 8-6.
PASSING — Dillon, J.D. Ferris 20-30-1-276. Butte Central, Peoples 10-20-1-196.
RECEIVING — Dillon, Van Slyke 2-110, Simkins 7-95, Justin Ferris 4-49, Trae Williams 3-32, Brady Richardson 3-17, Jason Ferris 1-8. Butte Central, Chad Peterson 3-96, Cole Harper 3-53, Dalton Sessions 3-39, Richards 1-8.