HELENA – All season, Butte High’s football team has prided itself on overcoming adversity.
The Bulldogs gave themselves a bit too much to deal with Friday night, as third-ranked Helena High posted a dramatic 34-28 win over top-ranked Butte High during Helena’s Senior Night at Vigilante Stadium.
Butte dug an early hole, giving up touchdowns on each of Helena’s first three drives. Offensively, the Bulldogs turned the ball over three times, including a late fumble that helped the Bengals burn up much of the remaining time in the game.
“We didn’t start well, and you can’t do that against a team like Helena High,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said after the game. “Then we had three turnovers and it was too much to overcome. Now we’ll have to get back to work – we’re still a very good football team, but we can’t hurt ourselves like that.”
Butte High punted away its first two possessions, while the Bengals were hot from the start. Helena broke open its first drive with a 38-yard pass from Dawson Reardon to Sam Hilger. The duo connected again on the next play for a 10-yard scoring strike.
After a three-and-punt Butte showing, the Bengals again flashed a slick passing look, this time between Reardon and Troy Arntson. The battery sparked for completions of 12, 17 and 11 yards, the final one a touchdown.
The Bulldogs finally got an offensive shot in the arm from Zach Bunney, whose first touch on the drive went for 57 yards, setting up a 6-yard touchdown connection between Dallas Cook and Bryce Armstrong.
Helena answered, however, as Zach Winfield bounced around the right side of Butte’s defense and rumbled in for a 45-yard touchdown. It was Winfield’s lone appearance in the end zone Friday, but the 200-pound senior managed to tally 257 yards on 31 carries.
Down a pair of touchdowns, the Bulldogs saw watched Kyle Cochran intercept a Cook pass, but Butte started to see good signs from its defense. Butte held Helena to a failed 50-yard field goal attempt, and the offense drove the 80 yards to six more points. A crucial third-and-long pass completion from Cook to Jon Allen set up a 5-yard toss from Cook to Dalton Daum, and Helena’s lead was shrunk to a single score.
Mason Woods, Bunney and Daniel Kloepfel each made big stops to force a punt on Helena’s next drive, allowing Cook and company to go to work with 99 seconds left in the half. Butte’s standout junior quarterback opened with a 20-yard toss to Daum, followed by a 9-yarder to Allen. Then, on third and 1, Cook kept the ball and rambled for 16 yards and a first down. The next play saw Cook loft a perfect arcing spiral to Armstrong, who hauled it in for a 37-yard score.
Helena retook the lead in the third quarter when Reardon faked the handoff to Winfield and countered back to his right for an 8-yard keeper touchdown.
Helena had obstacles to overcome as well, though they weren’t due to turnovers – the Bengals didn’t give the ball away Friday. Reardon left the game midway through the third quarter with a possible concussion after being sandwiched in a crushing tackle between a pair of Butte linemen. Troy Arntson took over behind center and though the Bengal playbook was noticeably thinner, the Helena offense still managed to move the ball.
Butte High tied the game again late in the third quarter, largely due to the handiwork of Bunney. Cook opened the drive from the Butte 27 with a 23-yard run that was sprung with a resounding block by Bunney. Then the senior back sprinted right through the middle of the Helena defense, scoring from 50 yards out.
With the roar of a huge crowd of Bulldog supporters, Butte held Helena to a 29-yard field goal by Trevin Thompson, who had been booting huge kickoffs all game long. Following an interception by Helena’s Ryan Maier, Thompson booted a 27-yarder to give the Bengals a 34-28 advantage.
Butte was driving on the Helena 30 when Cook was sacked and lost the ball to Brad Shepherd, and Helena’s offense went into slow-down mode to eat up the clock. Butte used strong defense and all three of its timeouts to force a 34-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right.
With 80 yards to go in just 50 seconds, the Bulldogs were unable to cover the distance. A final bomb intended for Daum fell incomplete, and the Helena team celebrated the win with its crowd.
“What a rollercoaster ride,” Helena coach Tony Arntson said after the game. “That was really a great team effort. Butte has so many weapons and Arie’s done a great job with that program. But I’m really proud of our guys for hanging on.”
Butte High had already clinched a spot in the Class AA playoffs, and while a win Friday would have given the Bulldogs home advantage throughout, they might still claim the top seed.
“We need to come back to work and get ready for Missoula Sentinel,” Grey said. “If we can win that one then we’ll take a look at the tiebreakers.”
Butte is now 7-2, sitting in a five-way tie for first place with Helena High, Great Falls Russell, Billings West and Kalispell Glacier. The Bulldogs own wins over CMR and West, both of whom downed Helena. Butte and Glacier have not met this season.
In addition to the Bulldogs’ game at Sentinel Friday, Helena High faces crosstown rival Capital, while West takes on Billings Skyview. CMR plays 1-8 crosstown rival Great Falls High and Glacier is at Missoula Big Sky.
Butte 7 14 7 0 — 28
Helena 21 0 7 6 — 34
HEL — Sam Hilger 10 pass from Dawson Reardon (Trevin Thompson kick), 8:41
HEL — Troy Arntson 11 pass from Reardon (Thompson kick), 4:44
BUTTE — Bryce Armstrong 6 pass from Dallas Cook (Jake Dennehy kick), 3:31
HEL — Zack Winfield 46 run (Thompson kick), 1:24
BUTTE — Dalton Daum 4 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick), 4:33
BUTTE — Armstrong 38 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick), 0:32
HEL — Reardon 9 run (Thompson kick), 8:54
BUTTE — Zach Bunney 50 run (Dennehy kick), 0:51
HEL — Thompson 28 field goal, 9:35
HEL — Thompson 27 field goal, 5:55
First downs 17 22
Total yards 441 505
Rushes-yards 26-179 49-335
Passing 17-37-2 18-24-0
Passing yards 262 170
Punts-average 3-24.3 3-32
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-25 3-30
RUSHING — Butte, Bunney 7-80, Jake Eisenbarth 8-39, Cook 9-53, Daum 2-15. Helena, Winfield 31-257, Arntson 12-56, Reardon 6-22.
PASSING — Butte, Cook 16-36-2-238, Bunney 1-1-0-24. Helena, Reardon 14-19-0-145, Arntson 4-5-0-25.
RECEIVING — Butte, Daum 5-62, Bunney 3-73, Armstrong 4-57, Jon Allen 3-52, Tyler Earles 1-18. Helena, Hilger 9-101, Arntson 7-71, Tory Umsted 1-4, Joe Rouse 1-(-6).