Bulldogs boot Falcons in costly opening victory

Fans who attended Butte High’s Class AA football game against Billings Skyview Friday night at a smoke-clogged Naranche Stadium certainly got their money’s worth, as the Bulldogs opened the season with a wild 24-21 double-overtime victory over the Falcons.

Sophomore placekicker Nathanial Ferguson booted a 19-yard field goal to close out the second Montana Playoff overtime period and sent the home crowd into hysterics as the Butte High student body ran onto the sod to congratulate its team.

And as dramatic as the final play was – a backup long-snapper, a junior holder and a sophomore kicker were all involved – the entire evening was full of highlight-worthy plays.

Butte junior Brian LaFond blocked Skyview’s last shot at a field goal. Anthony Cooney pounced on a fumble caused by Justin Peterson for a defensive touchdown. Kiley Caprara downed a Butte punt on the goal line to set up Cooney’s score. Mason Ruppel capped a strong showing at running back with a 17-yard scoring run. Will O’Connor scored on a reverse to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the season.

Two things stood out, however. The Bulldog defense came to play, making key stop after key stop and keeping the team in the game with Butte’s first touchdown. The other, and maybe most impressive thing, was sophomore backup quarterback Ty Peterson who stepped in after Bulldog standout Dylan Cook left the field with a shoulder injury.

Peterson, a sophomore who really had no reason to think he would play Friday, stepped in and took care of business. He completed 10 of 24 passes for 89 yards and never lost composure even as things seemed to crumble around him from time to time.

“It was rough at first, and I was nervous,” Peterson said after the game. “But then we settled in and got it done.”

Peterson and center Konnor O’Neill didn’t connect on the shotgun snaps at first, but Peterson, or “Chaka” as he’s been nicknamed by his teammates, had a good explanation.

“Konnor’s used to sending the ball back to a guy who’s like seven feet tall,” Peterson said of his 6-foot-5 teammate Dylan Cook. “I’m just 5-8 and not a very big target.”

A good number of Butte’s other players aren’t that big either, as the Skyview contingent outweighed the Bulldogs across the board on both sides of the ball. Still, the Bulldogs managed – with only a few exceptions – to make the plays when they mattered.

“Credit the kids and the coaches for battling through tonight,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said after the game. “They didn’t get nervous, and once they got settled in, they took care of business. They really believe in each other.”

The Falcons opened the scoring on their second drive of the night when 6-4 senior quarterback Logan Nelson connected on an 80-yard pass with Garrett Jensen.

Butte High sputtered on its first two possessions, but looked solid on the third after Cook rambled forward for a 25-yard gain up the gut. His contact with the ground was harder than realized, and Peterson was quickly called into action. To make matters worse, Butte’s leading senior receiver Paul Clark also left the game with a twisted knee.

“Every day we preach about overcoming adversity,” Grey said. “And they did it. There were a few times we could have tanked, but I’m proud of them for settling in and battling to the end.”

Butte’s offense punted away its next seven possessions of the first half, but the last of Ferguson’s boots was a doozy. He lofted the ball high and toward the end zone as Caprara raced to try stopping it short of the goal line. He downed the ball almost at the goal line, and a couple plays later Butte’s Justin Peterson knocked the ball from the hands of Skyview’s Gabe Davis, leaving Anthony Cooney to pick it up for the score.

“Justin and Kiley made that whole thing possible,” Cooney said. “The ball was just sitting there for me. It was the luckiest thing in the world for me.”

After the 7-7 halftime tie, both teams came back and traded a pair of punts before Butte High’s offense found form. Sophomore defensive lineman Grayson Mandic caught an 18-yard pass from Peterson to help set up the 20-yard scoring reverse by O’Connor.

“That was huge,” Grey said. “We needed that one.”

Butte’s PAT run failed and Skyview retook a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when Nelson floated a nice pass to Jensen in the southwest corner of the end zone. It cost the Falcons though, as 6-5, 302-pound lineman Dawson Berg was flagged for his second unsportsmanlike penalty of the night, earning an ejection from the game.

Butte got into position for its final touchdown of the night partly thanks to a key 26-yard pass from Peterson to Jake Salmonsen. Ruppel capped the drive on a 17-yard run through a sizable hole created by the Bulldog offensive line.

Skyview tied the game late in the fourth quarter with a bruising drive led by fullback Drew Keierleber, who finished the game with 115 yards on 27 carries to lead all ball carriers. Neither team scored again in regulation, leading to the wild overtime periods.

Skyview’s Jensen ended Butte’s first OT drive with a fourth-down interception, and an apparent turnover almost ended in a defensive touchdown for Butte. The ball was ruled down, making Bryce Gallagher’s 99-yard return go for naught. With less than a yard to go on fourth and goal, Skyview’s staff opted to try a field goal, but the snap was high and the ensuing scramble was unsuccessful.

The Falcons then had the first possession of the second OT period, and again tried a field goal, though that one was blocked by Brian LaFond. That set up Butte’s last shot, which ended on Ferguson’s heroic kick.

“We knew the defense was going to have to step up,” said senior linebacker Kaleb Ferriter. “We just played hard and tried to wear them down. We played with a lot of heart, but that’s what we’re all about.”

Butte High will aim for a 2-0 start next Friday when the Bulldogs play host to Missoula Sentinel on Silver B’s Night. Sentinel dropped a 40-3 decision to Billings Senior Friday. In other Class AA action, Bozeman ran up a 56-7 win over Missoula Hellgate, Great Falls got past Missoula Big Sky 29-21, Helena battled past Glacier 23-17, Capital downed Billings West 30-8 and Kalispell Flathead rolled past Great Falls Russell 28-7.

NOTES: Although Butte High isn’t suiting up any freshmen players for varsity this season, one ninth-grade receiver caught a few eyes Friday. Rylan Waananen was in the top row of the student bleachers when Ferguson booted the PAT following Cooney’s defensive touchdown. The bullet of a kick was headed for Main Street until Waananen reached up and snagged it for one of the best catches of the night… The smoke from regional forest fires forced the cancellation of the junior varsity game earlier in the day, though clearing conditions allowed a timely start for the 7 p.m. varsity matchup. Later in the game, however, the smoke rolled in heavily.


Bulldog running back Mason Ruppel picks up yards in the second quarter.

Bulldog running back Mason Ruppel picks up yards in the second quarter.

Bulldog defenders, from left, Grayson Mandic, Brian LaFond and Justin Peterson look to the sideline for the play call.

Bulldog defenders, from left, Grayson Mandic, Brian LaFond and Justin Peterson look to the sideline for the play call.

Butte High backup quarterback Ty Peterson watches a pass.

Butte High backup quarterback Ty Peterson watches a pass.

Starting quarterback Dylan Cook left the game with an injury in the second quarter.

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