By Bruce Sayler
If the wildfire smoke permeating western Montana is a concern for Butte High’s football home opener, the consideration is small.
It’s not that administrators aren’t making contingency plans. They are. The focus for head coach Arie Grey and his players and staff, though is playing Helena Capital.
The Class AA Conference clash is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Thursday at Naranche Stadium. It will mark the Bulldogs’ third straight Thursday night game to begin the season. Butte High enters with a 1-1 record following last Thursday’s 64-12 drubbing of Missoula Hellgate, while Capital is 2-0 and coming off a 30-24 comeback victory over Kalispell Flathead.
“We have to start fast,” Grey said. “Capital hasn’t started fast yet, but (the Bruins) have done a phenomenal job of finishing. That can be attributed to the confidence they have.”
The Bruins spotted Flathead a 21-6 head start before rattling off 24 straight points while pulling out the victory.
Senior quarterback Matt McGinley led the comeback, dashing for one touchdown himself and handing off to star running back Seth Schneider for two. Junior Brennan Casey ran in the other TD.
Butte High unleashed some weapons, too, in its win over Hellgate after a season-opening 27-19 loss to Flathead in Bigfork. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott kept for one quarterback and flipped two scoring passes each to junior receiver Kash Kelly and senior Kaden Hanni. Mellott also found Kody Keene and Brady Deck for TD throws. The Bulldogs’ other touchdowns were runs by fullback Corbin Walker and sophomore running back Kobe Moreno.
“We’re proud of our kids,” Grey said. “They played hard. But, now it’s exciting to be home and we want to showcase what we’re about in front of our fans. I think we have the best fans and the facility in the state.
“It was back-to-work this week, and the kids did a good job.”
The Bulldogs are looking for a fast game intended to keep Capital from participating as much as possible, Grey indicated.
“We have to be able to run the ball,” the coach said. “Their strengths are their O-Line and their D-Line. We need to run the ball and get their big guys moving quite a bit and wearing out.
“Capital is always very solid, defensively. You always know what you’ll get when you line up against them. They’re good at it. They’ll try to stop the run game with their front four and they’ll try to stop the passing game with their front four. We have to be patient on offense.”
Schneider is a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder who returns to the Bruins as one of the top running backs in the state from last year. The 5-11, 175-pound McGinley stepped into the starting QB role for the first time this year, but started in the past at safety on defense. Head coach Kyle Mihelish is reloading the receiver positions after graduating several last year.
The Bruins’ line has good size, topped out by 6-3, 275-pound senior Conor Quick. Defensive line leaders include 6-3, 190-pound senior Brandon Spragg, 6-3, 190-pound senior Ryan Spragg and 6-0, 185-pound junior Daniel Ernst.
The linebacking corps and secondary both have good athleticism with a blend of returning veterans and young newcomers.
“Defensively, we will have to stop the run,” Grey said. “They have some fast running backs who can break onto a seam and take it to the house. They have a quarterback who is very athletics. We have to stop their ground-and-pound.
“Offensively, we have to control the ball, so we have to run the ball.”
Senior Bo Mortensen (5-11, 195) and junior Josh Neill (5-9, 150) lead the Butte High running attack, with Walker (5-10, 215), a star in the defensive line, seeing some duty at fullback. Mellott (6-0, 165, sophomore) is also a good ball-carrier and presents a danger to opposition on keeper plays.
The Bulldog receiving corps is proving to be good with the likes of Kelly (5-9, 140 junior), Keene (5-11, 160 senior), Hanni (6-1, 140 senior), Deck (6-0, 165 senior) and Kale McCarthy (6-1, 155 junior) working wide, and Nate Ferguson (6-1, 210 senior) having a good early season at tight end.
The offensive line starters are center Carter Pribnow (6-1, 240 senior), guards Greyson Mandic (6-2, 230 senior) and Brenna Nielsen (6-3, 200 senior), and tackles Robbie Leipheimer (5-11, 210 senior) and Kyle Harding (6-1, 220 junior). The group has adequate size and good strength.
Defensively, Ferguson and Mandic work at the ends while Walker and heavyweight state wrestling champion Jeff Queer (6-2, 240 senior) man the tackles. Carl Anderson (5-8, 170 junior) is at middle linebacker, flanked by Cole Walker (6-0, 175 senior) and Marcus Garcia (6-0, 195 senior). The secondary shows Robin Bagley (5-9, 140 senior) and McCarthy at the corners, Ty Peterson (5-10, 150 senior) at free safety and Dakota Eggars (6-0, 160 junior) at strong safety.
“Capital is salty and physical, and we’re excited for the opportunity to play them,” Grey said. “They have a lot of kids, so they have some depth.
“We have to continue to get better. Last week was a step toward being successful. We’re working at this being another one. (Being successful) isn’t going to happen overnight.”