Invest in Class C high school football. You’ll get big returns.
Seriously though, the bonanza was at Bob Green Field on the Montana Tech campus Saturday night where the Blue Team outlasted the Red Team 42-38 in the 32nd annual holding of the Bob Cleverley Class C 8-Man All-Star Football Game.
The Red Team was made up of standouts from the Northern and Southern C conferences, while the Blues came from the Eastern and Western divisions. All were 2014-15 seniors and football standouts of last fall.
The special teams were very special and exciting with several huge returns for big gains, starting with the opening kickoff run back 97 yards for a touchdown by the Red’s Reid Nelson of Great Falls Central. Another special-team play was a punt of 50 yards, all in the air, by Darby’s Joe Caicedo of the Blue.
A lot of those big returns, too, ended in big collisions that thundered echoes through the stadium stands.
The ovations were loud, too, from the crowd of a bit less than 1,000. The decibels heightened toward the end as the teams raced for the win. The Blue, which led most of the game, pulled out the victory with a 49-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chase Comings from quarterback Monte Cayko. It came with 31 seconds on the clock and was the pair’s second TD connection of the night.
Comings broken open heading toward the corner of the field and Cayko, from Fairview, floated the ball with plenty of air under it for the winning score.
“Actually, I thought it was going over my head,” Comings, of the Drummond-Philipsburg Flint Creek co-op, said. “I kicked it into gear and it turned out to be a perfect pass.
“I realized I was open in that seam before and I talked to the coaches and Monte about it. We broke the blitzes and I was open. It was awesome.”
Cayko ran in the two-point conversion.
Just moments before, the Red took its first lead of the game since Nelson’s opening kickoff return. With 3:30 on the clock, quarterback Derek Heggen sent a 37-yard touchdown aerial to White Sulphur Springs teammate Walker Gruszie for their second TD link of the contest. The play gave the Red a 38-34 edge.
The Blue’s ensuing drive stalled on downs and the Red took over at its own 42-yard line hoping to run out the clock. However, the Blue defense stiffened and the Red was forced to punt. It was shanked for only a 1-yard kick. The Blue scored what proved to be the winning touchdown two plays later.
“The players were just having a blast,” said Blue head coach Jim Oberweiser, of Drummond, who heads the Flint Creek program. “And why not? It was one more chance to play football.
“It was the kind of game where all we had to tell our kids was all they had to do was answer.
“That last touchdown, we had seen where that (route) was open earlier. Our quarterback was able to buy some time and the tight end was able to break open.”
The Red had one last possession, but very little time. A pass interference penalty against the Blue moved the ball to the Red 37-yard line. A pass was incomplete and then the Red was penalized five yards for lining up in an illegal formation. A hook-and-ladder play on the last snap gained 10 yards but time expired.
The other Cayko-Comings hookup was a 26-yard play at 10:48 of the second quarter and broke a 6-all tie. The Blue also scored on two Caicedo receptions, 21 and 33 yards, both from Arlee quarterback Riley Rogers; a 51-yard dash by Cayko and a 15-yard carry by Kris Noble of Broadus.
Two-point conversions were tallied by P.J. Haynes of Arlee on a pass from Cayko and Danny Mannix of Flint Creek on a pass from Rogers.
The other Red touchdowns were a 1-yard pass to Taylor Bienvenue of Broadview/Lavina from Nelson, a 6-yard run by future Montana Tech Oredigger Wylie Leo of Ennis, Heggen’s 24-yard connection with Gruszie and a 1-yard plunge by Nolan Donisthorpe of Great Falls Central.
A pass to Donisthorpe from Nelson in the fourth quarter was the only conversion the Red was able to score.
Individual player awards were presented to Blue Offensive MVP Cayko, Blue Defensive MVP Caicedo, Red Offensive MVP Nelson and Red Defensive MVP Walker McKitrick of Ennis.
Caicedo registered a pair of sacks to go with his touchdowns and 50-yard punt. He said this game marked his first playing wide receiver and also said he has “no idea” where Montana Western will slot him in the Bulldog program.
“This was a great time, was one of the most fun football games I’ve ever played in,” Caicedo said. “I had confidence in my guys that we’d win.”
Neither team ever gave up and both sides were mostly smiles afterward.
Nelson will bring his ample talents back to the same site in a couple months when he joins Montana Tech for summer drills. His dad, Mike Nelson, was an assistant coach on the Red Team this game.
“This was our last game,” Reid Nelson said. “And I think he teared up a little bit. It was great having Dad coach.”
Nelson said his game-opening TD happened all on instinct, as well as with some good help downfield.
“I just got the ball and took off running,” he said. “My track background kind of took over and I got some good blocks and I don’t think I really ever got touched.”
He said he will soon forget about the loss, but did forge some lasting experiences during the week of practice preparing for the game.
“I’ll totally forget this game,” he said. “But I won’t forget the friends I made — on the Red and on the Blue. This is a great game and I want to thank everyone and anyone who supports it. It was an awesome week and an awesome game.”
Nelson said he did think, however, that the game took on a last-score-wins flavor as the teams dueled with touchdowns heading down the stretch toward the buzzer. Therefore, with the Red having last possession, he said he figured his team would be victorious, even with the time quickly melting off the clock.
“I thought we would win it with a Hail Mary or something,” Nelson said. “But the storybook ending didn’t happen this time.”
Nelson passed for a game-high 143 yards, with one touchdown, and ran for 39 to go with his 97-yard kickoff return. McKitrick was a tackling leader and Cayko finished with 51 yards rushing and 105 passing. He scored one TD and passed for two.
The game couldn’t have started any better for the Red with Nelson’s touchdown.
Blue quickly answered when Rogers hit Caicedo for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
Comings used his finger tips to haul in a 26-yard strike from Cayko to put Blue on top with 10:42 left in the second. Cayko then hit Haynes for the 2-point conversion and a 14-6 lead.
The lead grew to 22-6 when Rogers and Caicedo hooked up for a 33-yard score at the 7:11 mark of the second quarter. Rogers hit Mannix for the conversion.
Red cut the lead to 22-12 just before halftime when Nelson hit Bienvenue for a 1-yard score.
Blue extended the lead to 28-12 when Cayko faked a pass and then raced 50 yards for a score with 8:40 left in the third.
Red quickly answered when a 27-yard run by Ennis star Walker McKitrick led to a 6-yard run by Leo, cutting the lead to 28-18.
With 2:52 left in the third, Red pulled to within 28-24 when Heggen and Gruszie hooked up for a 24-yard score.
After a 15-yard Blue touchdown run by Noble, Red cut the lead to 34-32 when Donisthorpe scored on a 1-yard run before catching the 2-point conversion from Nelson with 11:06 to play.
After that, the game got even better.
Red 6 6 12 14 — 38
Blue 6 16 6 14 — 42
RED — Reid Nelson 97 kick return (run failed), 14:45
BLUE — Joe Caicedo 22 pass from Riley Rogers (pass failed), 10:40
BLUE — Chase Comings 26 pass from Monte Cayko (P.J. Haynes from Cayko), 10:42
BLUE — Caicedo 33 pass from Rogers (Daniel Mannix from Rogers), 7:11
RED — Taylor Bienvenue 1 pass from Nelson (pass failed), :27.9
BLUE — Cayko 50 run (pass failed), 8:40
RED — Wylie Leo 6 run (run failed), 7:05
RED — Walker Gruszie 24 pass from Derek Heggen (pass failed), 2:52
BLUE — Kris Noble 15 run (run failed), 14:28
RED — Nolan Donisthorpe 1 run (Donisthorpe from Nelson), 11:06
RED — Gruszie 39 pass from Heggen (pass failed), 3:30
BLUE — Comings 49 pass from Cayko (Cayko run), :30.6