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Bulldogs come back to rope Rustlers in last minute

Bulldogs come back to rope Rustlers in last minute
Butte High Bulldogs Corbin Walker (53) and Brian LaFond (23) celebrate after the two got in on a sack Friday night at Naranche Stadium. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

The view from sitting on top of the world is pretty good.

The Butte High Bulldogs had that perch Friday night after their heart-spent 26-21 victory over C.M. Russell of Great Falls in a Class AA Conference high school football game.

It was Silver B’s Night and the Bulldogs certainly kept the old boys up late.

The Naranche Stadium crowd was boisterous, helpful and included this year’s Silver B’s and Golden B’s, first-time Butte High football letter-winners from 25 and 50 years ago, as this year’s Bulldog edition flared back from a 21-3 deficit.

The comeback was capped in the final 30 seconds. Junior quarterback Tyler Peterson connected with Kiley Caprara on a 50-yard slant play that ended came up a yard short of the goal line. Peterson, however, carried the ball into the end zone on the next play and Butte High had its first lead of the game, 25-21, with 24 seconds left. Nathaniel Ferguson kicked the extra point.

“I should’ve went for two,” head coach Arie Grey half lamented afterward. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

It didn’t matter as it all turned out.

The Bulldogs squibbed the kickoff after the go-ahead touchdown and the Rustlers set up shop on their own 41-yard line with 19 seconds to go. Quarterback Lane Jensen’s first-down pass was incomplete, sailing high and out of  bounds.

His next one  was caught — by Caprara. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Bulldog senior picked it off at the Butte High 38 and ran it back 10 yards before electing to slide down on the artificial turf. The Bulldogs owned possession with 4 seconds on the clock and Peterson knelt out the last play of the game.

“I am so happy, right now!” Butte High senior safety Bryce Gallagher yelled as the game ended, likely vocalizing the thoughts of Bulldogs old and new in the stadium Friday night.

“We had a span there of about three weeks where we didn’t handle things too well,” Grey said. “I’m proud of how we played tonight.”

Grey pointed out that the pass play to Caprara was first attempted on the initial play of the game. It fell incomplete. Butte High wound up punting away that possession and CMR used the opportunity to score.

Jensen carried three straight times on keepers up the middle for 26 yards until the Bulldogs finally stopped him for no gain. But his totes launched a 76-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pack by Garrison Rothwell. Russell led 7-0 after A.J. Folds’ first of three extra-point kicks.

The Bulldogs then drove to the Rustlers’ 13, but Damien Nelson picked off a pass in the end zone as CMR stopped the march. The Rustlers were pinned deep and a punt failed to clear the 50-yard line. The Bulldogs drove back to the Russell 8, but had to settle for Ferguson’s 25-yard field goal.

The score stayed 7-3 until late in the half. The Rustlers finished off a 12-play drive with a dash of razzle-dazzle. Jensen handed off to Rothwell, who crossed behind him in the backfield before flipping to Cade Mares crossing from the other side. Mares then tossed a 10-yard pass to Jeff Wilkins waiting in the end zone. Folds’ boot with 18 seconds left increased CMR’s lead to 14-3 at halftime.

It looked like more of the same-old, same-old as the second half started. A 61-yard Russell march ended after eight plays with Jensen finding Wilkins for a 28-yard TD strike. It was 21-3 about 2 ½ minutes into the third quarter.

“We said at some point we’re going to flip the switch — we had that feeling,” Grey said. “I told them tonight the second half was when we were going to do it. I told them that at halftime.

“We responded.”

The Bulldogs received the kickoff after CMR’s last TD, threw an in-completion and absorbed a false-start penalty. Peterson launched a pass downfield along the south sideline. Will O’Connor grabbed it behind a defender and outraced the CMR defense for an 87-yard touchdown.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Will run that fast,” Grey said.

So, it was 21-10 and the Bulldogs’ defense and fandom responded next. Penalties pushed the Rustlers from the Butte High 20, where they had driven on the ensuing possession, to the 47.

“That was our crowd,” Grey said. “All the penalties were all because of our crowd. They were our 12th man tonight. We’ve been telling the kids they need to get the crowd into the game.”

Because of going backward due to penalties, the Rustlers were put into a punting situation. The snap was high and by the time Rothwell chased it down he was being swarmed. Butte High’s Corbin Walker blocked it and Jake Moore recovered. The Bulldogs had the ball on CMR’s 24-yard line.

However, Butte High was unable to capitalize right then. The short drive fizzled when a pass off of a fake field goal attempt was picked off by Rustler Max Sechena. A penalty against CMR put the ball on the Russell 4-yard line. The snap was hiked high and over the end zone on the next play, tallying a safety for Butte High. The CMR lead had been whittled to 21-12 with the Bulldogs to gain possession on the free kick.

Caprara almost broke the return for a TD. He took it back to the Russell 29. Peterson quarterbacked the Bulldogs to the Russell 14 from where he found Caprara open in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass. Ferguson’s PAT kick brought the Bulldogs to within 21-19 with almost 11 minutes still to play in the fourth quarter.

Butte High stopped the Rustlers on downs at the Bulldog 34. The Rustlers got the ball back after a punt but lost some momentum on a drive when Butte High linebacker Austin Lee shot in to belt Rothwell to the ground nine yards behind the line of scrimmage.

A pass interference call against Butte High cost the Bulldogs 15 yards and awarded CMR a first down. Again, though, a big hit starched the drive. Brian LaFond raced in from defensive end to deliver a crushing hit to Jensen, sacking the Russell QB for a 9-yard loss.

The Rustlers were forced to punt. The Bulldogs trailed by two points with one more chance to score.

They capitalized.

Peterson completed one pass to Caprara and another to Will Brandon for first downs, then ran for another. Facing third-and-10 from his own 49, Peterson spotted Caprara on the slant and the 50-yard play set up the game-winner.

“We put it on our defense at the end and they came up big,” Grey said. “Austin Lee had that big hit and Brian LaFond with that sack, and Kiley had that pick to end it.

“Give the kids the credit. They were believing all game long they could win it.”

The victory ended a losing streak at three games for Butte High and put its record at 2-3. The Bulldogs go to Billings next week for their third game this season in Daylis Stadium, this time a Friday afternoon tilt versus Billings West.

C.M Russell is also 2-3 after the loss to the Bulldogs.

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