For the first time in more than four decades, Butte High’s Naranche Stadium will be the site of a Class AA football playoff game, as the Bulldogs play host to Billings Skyview.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Naranche Stadium. (KBOW 550 a.m. Click here to listen online.)
The second-seeded Bulldogs (8-2) will be looking for a bit of revenge in the first-round playoff game, as No. 7 Skyview (6-4) dealt Butte High a 55-48 defeat back in the second week of the regular season.
Nine weeks have passed since the teams last met on the artificial turf of Daylis Stadium, and both will be looking to advance to the semifinals. They’ll be in a different setting Friday, as Naranche’s natural grass is beginning to turn from green to brown and the nights are carrying a chill.
They’ll also be in a very partisan setting, as the Naranche crowd has stepped up to play a tangible role in the Bulldogs’ season. The crowd ranges from a strategic silence as the Bulldogs call plays in their high-power no-huddle offense, all the way to a vociferous roar when the opposing team tries to move the ball. Butte High is 5-0 at home this year, and 8-1 since the completion of Naranche’s restoration last fall.
“Playing football in November is fun,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said Thursday. Friday’s game will be Butte’s third appearance in the playoffs in Grey’s five-year run with the Bulldogs. “I’m excited to see the kids play at home in the postseason. It will be a neat atmosphere.”
Butte High learned much from its first meeting with Skyview, Grey said.
“Obviously we saw a very good football team,” Grey said of the 6-4 Falcons. “We saw how important it is for everyone to do their job. We need to limit our mental mistakes. We have to be disciplined; if we do the little things, the big things will happen.”
Offensively, one of Butte’s goals is to get off to a better start. The Bulldogs have had some difficulty this season with play in the first quarter, and that was certainly the case in Billings in August.
“We’ve got to get out to a good start,” Grey said. “We’ve got to go every time and sustain our drives. We have to play well in the red zone and take our opportunities when we get them. We have to get the ball out in space to our players and do great things when we have the ball in our hands.”
Butte High is averaging in excess of 500 yards per game behind the leadership of junior quarterback Dallas Cook, as well as a fleet-footed crew of receivers and running backs Zach Bunney and Jake Eisenbarth. The veteran Bulldog offensive line makes it all possible.
Butte High’s defense has stepped up in big situations this season, and will have its hands full with Skyview’s wing-T running attack. The Falcons average a state-best 300 yards per game on the ground.
“Defensively, we need to do a better job recognizing what they’re doing,” Grey said. “We need to work on getting off blocks. A team like Skyview hangs its hat on the run, so we need to be good on first down. They’ll run, run, run and then pass. Coach (Ron) Lebsock has a phenomenal scheme, and they do a great job getting to the edge and keeping you honest with the play-action pass. This is a great challenge for our defense.”
The Falcons are also dangerous on kickoff return, and Grey said his special teams units will be tested.
“We have to be sound there,” he said. “We have to play extremely hard, physical and fast.”
Skyview is coming off a big final-week win over Billings West, and will be looking for momentum to carry the Falcons through Butte. The Bulldogs posted a hard-fought win over Missoula Sentinel last week in cold and snowy conditions.
“Last week was a great test for us,” Grey said. “Conditions were not great, but our offensive line and running backs did a great job, and we had some opportunities in our passing game. Defensively, it was good for us to play against a great physical back. That game was a great test for us on the road to what we hope to accomplish.”
Grey lauded the play of Chase Plum and Daniel Kloepfel on defense, as well as two-way standout Drew Schleeman at both guard and linebacker.
“I can’t say enough about our offensive line and running backs and the push we got,” Grey said. “The kids are excited and they understand what we’re supposed to be doing. They’ve worked extremely hard for this and I couldn’t ask for more than what they’re doing right now.”
Other first-round games set for Friday include No. 8 Helena Capital (5-5) at No. 1 Kalispell Glacier (8-2), No. 6 Billings West (7-3) at No. 3 Great Falls Russell (8-2), and No. 5 Bozeman (7-3) at No. 4 Helena (8-2). All will kick off at 7 p.m., except for the West-CMR game, which begins at 7:30.