“Play this play.”
It sounds like a simple philosophy for a football team, but it helped Butte High overcome an early 20-0 deficit and post a 42-28 Class AA football victory over Helena Capital Friday at Naranche Stadium.
“We didn’t start well, but the kids settled down and handled the adversity,” Butte head coach Arie Grey said. “They played the play they were in and moved on. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Following the coin toss by U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Butte looked to receive the ball and open on offense, but the Bruins had other plans. Capital’s 225-pound place kicker Kolby Tamol caught the Bulldogs – as well as most of the capacity crowd – off guard when he topped the football and sprinted 10 yards to recover his own onside kick to start the game.
Already on their heels, Butte High’s defense was unsure what to expect from the Bruins, who have lost a pair of quarterbacks to injury already this season.
What they got was a big dose of Gunnar Brekke, who scored all four of Capital’s touchdowns Friday. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior opened up at quarterback, where he pounded the ball ahead Wildcat style. Save a couple delayed draws up the middle by Garrett Quigley, Brekke carried the Bruins to the Butte red zone, where he finally scored on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Brian Sinrud.
The Bulldogs’ offense sputtered, as Capital’s Levi Dawes dropped Butte quarterback for a 7-yard loss on a sack, and the Bulldogs punted the ball away for the first of four straight times.
Butte’s defense got a shot in the arm on Capital’s next possession, as the Bruins were forced to settle for a field goal from 27 yards out. Trouble was, the Bulldog special teamers were ready to go, as Zach Bunney raced around from the edge and blocked Tamol’s attempt.
Butte’s second offensive drive was worse than the first, as the Bulldogs had to punt from the 1-yard line on fourth-and-28. The back-breaker on that campaign was a quick snap that let Cook to wisely make a forward-throwing motion, saving a defensive touchdown.
Capital’s next drive started on the Butte 24 and ended four plays later as Brekke swept to the right for a 12-yard score, and the visitors took the air out of the partisan crowd.
The Bulldogs picked up their first first down of the game – and their only one of the first quarter – when Cook bulled forward for 11 yards, but Dennehy was soon again in action as the punter, trying to salvage at least field position from the failed drive.
Capital burned the rest of the first quarter and four minutes of the second on a 65-yard, 16-play drive that ended in a 1-yard off-tackle run to the right by Brekke. A wide-right PAT kick left the Bruins with a 20-0 lead and the home crowd with an uncomfortable and uncustomary silence.
The offense’s fourth straight punt didn’t help morale, though the Butte defense stood strong afterward, forcing its first punt of the night.
Then the Bulldogs saw the first rays of hope from its normally potent offense. On their own 15, Cook found speedy Tyler Earles on the right, and following a good open-field block from a fellow receiver, Earles raced 72 yards to put the Bulldogs in scoring position. That came two plays later when Jake Eisenbarth blasted in from 5 yards out.
Capital began showing signs of a team riddled with injuries, as Sinrud fumbled on the Bruins’ second play of their turn, and Daniel Kloepfel pounced on the rock to give the Butte offense another shot.
With renewed confidence, Cook found Bruce Armstrong over the middle on a 15-yard gainer that set up Dalton Daum’s athletic sweep to the right that scored from 9 yards out.
Capital’s final drive of the first half ended in a punt with 35 seconds to play, but that turned out to be all Butte High needed. On fourth-and 10 with time running out, Cook launched a 38-yard bomb into the corner of the end zone, where little-utilized junior receiver Chase Plum was waiting for the game-tying reception. Dennehy’s PAT kick with no time left on the clock gave the Bulldogs a 21-20 edge going into intermission.
“Chase is a tall athletic kid,” Grey said. “That was a huge play for us coming into half.”
The Bruins opened the second half with a quick three-and-punt, followed by a 17-play drive that covered 88 yards, capped by a 6-yard veer to the right by Jake Eisenbarth, as tackle Nick Butorovich helped provide the horsepower that got his back through the goal plane.
The Bruins were only down by eight, and got six back in short order, as Brekke broke free on the right sideline, where he galloped in from 79 yards out. Sinrud connected with Cooper Lynch for a two-point PAT pass, and the game was tied 28-all.
Butte’s offense went back to work and covered 54 yards in nine plays, the last of which was a sharp pass from Cook to Jon Allen from 16 yards out. The Bulldogs used the same battery to score again six minutes later, this time from 12 yards.
Allen, who was coming off a big performance in the Bulldogs’ win over Missoula Big Sky last weekend, led the Butte receiving corps with eight catches for 101 yards. Cook finished up passing with 22 completions in 36 attempts for 268 yards, well short of his league-leading average, but still a remarkable performance.
“They got us a little out of our offense,” Cook said after the game. “It was just a situation where we needed to keep our heads up. We started doing the little things right, doing our jobs, and that made the difference.”
The Butte defense, however, was again the driving force behind the overall performance.
“You know, from the second quarter on, our defense played extremely well,” Grey said. “They got out there and played hard and physical football. We told them to just do your job.”
Grey said his team came out with a case of the jitters.
“You can’t do that against a team like Capital,” he said. “Once we relaxed and settled in, we were OK.”
What goes through players’ minds when they give up an early three-touchdown lead?
“Zero-zero, every play,” Butte defensive team captain Kloepfel said of the Bulldogs’ view of the score. “If there’s still time, we’re still in the game, no matter what. We’ve got talented people who can make plays any time in the game.”
No. 2 Butte High improved to a league-best 7-1, and will wait for Saturday night’s matchup featuring No. 1 Great Falls Russell (6-1) and No. 3 Billings West. Butte is on the road for the last two weeks of the regular season, playing at No. 4 Helena next Friday and at Missoula Sentinel the last weekend.
Capital 14 6 8 0 – 28
Butte 0 21 14 7 – 42
Capital – Gunnar Brekke 9 pass from Brian Sinrud (Kolby Tamol kick) 9:38
Capital – Brekke 12 run (Tamol kick) 3:32
Capital – Brekke 1 run (kick failed) 8:02
Butte – Jake Eisenbarth 5 run (Jake Dennehy kick) 4:45
Butte – Dalton Daum 9 run (Dennehy kick) 2:37
Butte – Chase Plum 38 pass from Dallas Cook (Dennehy kick) :00
Butte – Eisenbarth 6 run (Dennehy kick) 5:15
Capital – Brekke 79 run (Cooper Lynch pass from Sinrud) 4:08
Butte – Jon Allen 15 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick) 1:14
Butte – Allen 12 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick) 7:15
First Downs 14 18
Penalties 13-83 8-46
Passing Yards 70 268
Passing 6-13-0 22-36-0
Rushes-Yards 44-341 23-86
TOTAL Yards 411 354
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
RUSHING: Capital, Garrett Quigley 20-137, Gunnar Brekke 17-187, Brian Sinrud 7-17; Butte, Dallas Cook 11-31, Zach Bunney 7-52, Jake Eisenbarth 5-13.
PASSING: Capital, Sinrud 6-13-0-70; Butte, Cook 22-36-0-268.
RECEIVING: Capital, Ty Lynch 3-40, Brekke 2-22, Quigley 1-8; Butte, Jon Allen 8-101, Bryce Armstrong 7-51, Tyler Earles 4-87, Bunney 2 (-8), Chase Plum 1-38.