Braves deny Bulldogs on Homecoming night

By Bruce Sayler

The end zone was as elusive as a couple of Flathead running backs for Butte High Friday night as the Bulldogs lost in their Homecoming football game.

Flathead edged Butte High 14-7 with a fourth-quarter touchdown in the Class AA conference high school game played at Naranche Stadium.

A bit of fall chill was in the air as some wind swirled in the bowled stadium Uptown. Linebacker Jacob Masters and softball slugger Katelyn Alley were crowned Homecoming King and Queen at halftime.

The game, though, boiled down to a 3-yard touchdown plunge by the Braves’ Ryan Skramovsky on the second play of the fourth quarter. Cody Cusker kicked the extra point.

The teams had played to a 7-all tie after Flathead scored in the first quarter on 17-yard TD pass to tight end Austin Demars from quarterback Bridger Johnson. Butte High caught up in the second when freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott found senior receiver Kiley Caprara in the corner of the end zone. Caprara was well-covered, but out-wrestled the Flathead defender for the ball while falling to the artificial turf.

No more scoring occurred. A lot of good defense was played in the meantime.

“We had some great opportunities on offense we didn’t take advantage of,” Arie Grey, head coach of the Bulldogs, said. “Credit them for their big stops.

“Early on, we moved the ball. Right before the half, we had a good drive, too. We made some mental mistakes.”

Butte High had a chance or two late, also. Flathead just walled the Bulldogs out of the end zone. The defenses were stingy and it seemed to just go down to the Braves being able to chalk up one more denial than Butte High.

The Bulldogs’ first drive saw them take the opening kickoff to launch a 15-play march that ended on downs at the Flathead 12-yard line. Junior quarterback Ty Peterson connected with Caprara on 23- and 15-yard passes to carry the drive. However, a fumble on a running play ruined one chance from the 13. Butte High kept the ball, but Peterson was tackled when chased out of the pocket on fourth down, gaining a yard on fourth-and-three.

A trade of punts then saw Flathead scoot to its first touchdown. The throw to Demars was the end product of a drive started by Johnson’s 36-yard connection with James Flannigan to the Bulldog 21-yard line.

Butte High reached the Braves’ 18-yard line early in the second quarter, but the opportunity to score was vanquished when Flathead’s Jonas Nyman sacked Peterson on fourth down.

The Bulldog defense kept the Braves pinned deep in their own territory and forced a punt. With the return, Butte High set up shot at the Flathead 41. Mellott spelled Peterson and Bo Mortensen picked up a first down with a 6-yard carry to the Braves’ 28 on fourth-and-three.

Mellott then connected with Will O’Connor for a 16-yard gain. Three plays later, he linked with Caprara for the touchdown.

The Bulldogs stopped Flathead on the next possession then clicked off another long march as Peterson converted a fourth down with a 5-yard keeper. However, Jaden MacNeil  intercepted a pass at about the Braves’ 20-yard line and returned it to the 48 as the half ended.

“I thought our defense played well,” Grey said of a unit that included sterling play from ends Brian LaFond and Jake Moore as well as middle linebacker Austin Lee, Masters and Willie Anderson, along with Bryce Gallagher and Tyler Vetter in the secondary. “Our offense needs to be way more consistent.”

Most of the third quarter was played near midfield until Flathead revved up what turned out to be the winning drive. The Braves got the ball at their own 23 after a good Nathaniel Ferguson punt on the last play of the third period.

Johnson connected with Flannigan on a 40-yard gainer. Skramovsky carried for 20 more yards to the Butte High 17. Three plays later, Skramovsky tunneled into the end zone from the 3.

Butte High was forced to punt away its next possession and the Braves marched again. They reached the Bulldogs’ 7, but coughed up the ball on a fumble and Moore recovered at the 12.

Butte High was unable to capitalize and punted on a three-and-out. Flathead drove again and reached the Bulldog 3 where the march died on downs.

The Bulldogs had one last chance, one last series. Peterson passed to Kash Kelly for a first-down pickup at the 14 on fourth and 10. However, two incompletions were followed by Dechlan Sparrow’s  interception at the Butte High 42. After his runback, and a penalty against the Braves on the return, Flathead had possession at the Butte High 38-yard line with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the game.

They were able to kneel out the remaining time on three downs.

“Our guys played their butts off,” Grey said. “We had two red-zone chances that we got nothing from.”

“Defensively, we did a good job of pressuring on their quarterback. Our front and our linebackers do a good job of that.”

Mortensen was the game’s leading rusher with 92 yards on 22 carries. Peterson passed for 127 yards while connecting on 18 of 38 attempts. Caprara had 83 yards on nine catches, and O’Connor had 44 on five. Gallagher led the team in tackles with nine, followed by Lee with eight, Anderson with seven and Masters with six to round out the leaders.

Flannigan caught seven passes from Johnson for 159 yards. Johnson hit on 12 of 16 attempts for 236 yards. Nyman led the Flathead defense with 12 tackles, all unassisted and two of them sacks.

The win gave Flathead a 4-3 record for the season, Butte High is 2-5 and will close out its regular-season road schedule next weekend with a Friday trip to Kalispell to play Glacier High.

“We’ll go back to work tomorrow,” Grey said. “We’ll look at (the game film) and start getting ready (for Glacier). The sun will rise. We’ll get better and be better.”