By Bruce Sayler
HELENA – On a night of slick ball and slick surface, the Capital Bruins of Helena proved to be the slickest of all.
The undefeated Bruins, top-ranked and chocked full of college football commits and prospects, deftly negotiated the game-long drizzle on natural grass to beat Butte High 41-0 in a Homecoming celebration at Vigilante Stadium.
Quarterback Joey Michelotti, running back Tom Carter and linebacker Joey Lauerman all experienced huge nights for Capital in the Western AA Conference counter. Michelotti, with Butte family roots, connected on all but one of his 15 passes while throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Carter busted a 94-yard touchdown dash moments after the Bruins stopped a serious Bulldog scoring threat on his way to a 171-yard, three-touchdown night. Lauerman ball-hawked for a fumble recovery, a pass interception and a punt block, which he also scooped up for a touchdown.
The natural grass was muddy and made for loose footing in the rain, but on both sides of the field.
“That’s a really good football team,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey complimented. “And, then we couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities.
“Our kids will come back from this and they’ll come back strong.”
The storm hit early and the rain was already there.
The Bulldogs owned the first possession and sputtered with a pair of false-start penalties, then having to punt away. Capital drew a penalty on its first offensive play, too, but the Bruins’ second snap set the tone. Michelotti spotted tight end Hayden Opitz for a 42-yard connection that took Capital to the Butte High 18-yard line. Dylan Graham carried the ball four straight times, finding the end zone on the last one. Kevin LaChere kicked his first of six extra points and the Bruins had the early advantage, 7-0.
They kept it.
Capital’s ensuing kickoff churned through the slosh after landing and bounced off a Bulldog returnman’s leg. It caromed about 10 yards back toward the Bruins and Lauerman covered it for Capital possession at Butte High’s 46-yard line.
Michelotti fired to Opitz on first down and it was suddenly a 14-0 Capital lead.
The Bulldogs muscled up, though, and put together maybe their best offensive series of the night. They took their next possession at their own 15-yard line and methodically worked their way upfield on a march quarterbacked by Jace Stenson.
Stenson carried twice for 12 years to loosen the Bruins’ torrid pass rush and the keepers centered a 13-play drive that took Butte High to Capital’s 4-yard line. A 20-yard pass Stenson threw to freshman Cayde Stajcar keyed the drive.
After reaching the 4 on a 2-yard keeper, Stenson handed off to Luke Garrison on second down. Garrison was stopped at the line of scrimmage by a front wall led by Talon Marsh. The defense caught Stenson for a 2-yard loss on third down, then a pass by Stenson fell incomplete and the Bruins had held the Bulldogs out of the end zone.
The Bruins got the ball on downs but didn’t need many of their own. After Michelotti’s only incomplete pass of the game, almost a pick-six for the Bulldogs, Carter took a handoff, slashed to his left, waded through unsuccessful tacklers at the line of scrimmage, then flashed his getaway speed and got away. It was a 94-yard sprint and the Bruins took a 21-0 command into the second quarter.
“We had the opportunity and just didn’t take it,” Grey said. “We have to do a better job to prepare the kids for those opportunities.
“We have to be better early in the game and we have to respond.”
Carter’s 44-yard touchdown run down the north sideline tagged an early end to what had been a sustained Capital drive. It gave the Bruins a 28-0 margin at halftime.
Capital put two more TDs on the board in the third quarter and the victory was in hand. Quarterback Michelotti linked with Carter on a 20-yard touchdown pass before Lauerman tallied the last TD with his block and return of a Bulldog punt.
The clock ran the entire fourth quarter on the 35-point difference rule.
Grey said he liked his team’s response after the two early Capital touchdowns, including the bad-luck kickoff muff the Bruins cashed in for a wider margin. He noted the team drove to near the Capital end zone before yielding possession on downs, then being hit with Carter’s big play.
“I’m anxious to see their response after this,” he said. “Football is a great game. It teaches you how to handle instances and results such as this. We find, in these times and matters, what we can get out of football (to cope, move on and improve) to better our lives.”
The Michelottis are cousins, sons of former Butte High and Carroll college stars Brian (Joey) and John (Nick). The win moved the Bruins to 5-0 for the season, 3-0 in conference. Capital rolled up 481 yards of total offense in the win. Opitz was the top receiver in the game with seven catches for 101 yards and a TD.
Butte High is 3-3 overall, 2-2 in the Western AA. Stenson threw for 156 yards and ran for a team-high 34. Stajcar was his main receiver with three catches for 87 yards. The Bulldogs will play Glacier High in Kalispell next Friday.
Butte High 0 0 0 0 — 0
Helena Capital 21 7 13 0 – 41
HC – Dylan Graham 5 run (Kevin LaChere kick), 8:07. Drive – 55 yards in 5 plays. Key play – Hayden Opitz 42 pass from Joey Michelotti to Butte 18-yard line.
HC – Hayden Opitz 46 pass from Joey Michelotti (LaChere kick), 7:57. Drive – 46 yards in 1 play. Key play – Joey Lauerman recovered fumbled kickoff at Butte 46-yard line.
HC – Tom Carter 94 run (LaChere kick), 3:48. Drive – 94 yards in 2 plays. Key play – Scoring play.
HC – Carter 44 run (LaChere kick), 4:55. Drive – 67 yards in 9 plays. Key play – Scoring play.
HC – Carter 20 pass from J. Michelotti (pass failed), 10:34. Drive – 75 yards in 4 plays. Key play – Nick Michelotti 35-yard pass from Joey Michelotti to Butte 40-yard line.
HC – Joey Lauerman 20 blocked punt return (LaChere kick), 1:16. Drive – none. Key play – Lauerman blocked punt.
First downs 13 18
Rushes-yards 31-66 38-249
Passes 10-29-1 14-15-0
Passing yards 156 232
Total offense 222 481
Return yards 43 0
Punts-avg. x-7-31.8 2-52.0
Fumbles-lost 4-2 6-0
X – includes blocked punt.
RUSHING – Butte High, Jace Stenson 19-34, Trey Hansen 9-34, Bo DeMarais 1-5, Eli Smith 1-3, Luke Garrison 1-0. Capital, Tom Carter 9-171, Lance Baumgart 9-61, Dylan Graham 8-33, Merek Mihelish 3-9, Tuff Adams 1-6, Matteo Bugni 1-2, Joey Michelotti 5-(-15), Team 2-(-18).
PASSING – Butte High, Stenson 10-29-1-156. Capital, J. Michelotti 14-15-0-249.
RECEIVING – Butte High, Cayde Stajcar 3-87, Hudson Luedtke 2-28, Cameron Gurnsey 1-20, Sean Ossello 2-12, Alex Watson 2-10. Capital, Hayden Opitz 7-101, Nick Michelotti 3-87, Carter 2-39, Colton Lindgren 1-5.
TURNOVERS – Fumble recoveries: Butte High 0, Capital x-2 (Joey Lauerman 2). Pass interceptions: Butte High 0, Capital 1 (Lauerman).
X – includes blocked punt recovery.