By Bruce Sayler
Both Butte High and Flathead High of Kalispell will take 2-4 season records into their Class AA Conference prep football clash Friday night at Naranche Stadium. One of the differences is that Flathead’s last win was last weekend by forfeit over Missoula Hellgate, which didn’t draw enough upperclassmen to its turnout this fall to field a team.
The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff and the Bulldogs will be celebrating Homecoming at the event.
Despite a quick meltdown against Billings West last weekend, the Butte High team has been enjoying this week’s Homecoming events on its campus, head coach Arie Grey said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” the upbeat Grey said. “The boys really focused on what they needed to this week even with the distractions of enjoying Homecoming. We’re getting better every day. The kids are doing some really good things for us.”
The scoreboard operation might not be quite so busy this week compared to how the games have gone so far. The Braves and Bulldogs will likely both be trying to play keep away Friday with Flathead using its ground attack and Butte High working its short passing game.
“They have a very good quarterback who is in his second year (as a starter),” Grey said about Bridger Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior. “Everything runs through him. He’s definitely the focal point of their offense.
“They’ve battled through some injuries. They’re a play-action team that likes to run the ball. They’ll move the pocket (for pass plays). Defensively, they’ll get in your face and create as much havoc as they can.”
So, similar to the Bulldogs, the Braves are a physical team and plays hard.
“They definitely, in the last couple of weeks, have vastly improved,” Grey said. “They like to control the clock as much as they can.”
Flathead’s only on-field win this season was by 42-41 in overtime against Great Falls High in the inaugural Samson Bowl. The Braves’ head coach, Kyle Samson, got the win against his dad, Mark, who coached state AA champions at Helena Capital before going on to head the Montana State-Northern college program. Mark Samson later stepped down from Northern and was the head coach at Havre High last year before taking the Bison reins over the summer.
Flathead’s most recent game played was two weeks ago, a 24-7 loss to Bozeman.
“We have to put drives together and force them into three-and-outs,” Grey said.
Butte High suffered four turnovers and a safety when a snap sailed over the punter’s head and through the end zone last Friday against West. However, after a disastrous first quarter, the Bulldogs played fairly well, though losing 37-7.
“The kids came in ready to get better on Saturday,” Grey said, indicating last week’s game can’t even be seen in the team’s rear-view mirror anymore. “Our kids work so hard in the weight room, in the classroom, in practice to do what they have to do.
“We have to come out with passion on Homecoming, enjoy the festivities, but be ready to play on Friday at 7. We have to play one play at a time. Play it, then get ready for the next play.”
Butte High’s touchdown against West was an 11-yard pass to Will O’Connor from junior quarterback Ty Peterson. O’Connor wound up with five catches for 54 yards and fellow wideout Kiley Caprara snagged seven passes for 52 yards. Running back Bo Mortensen gained 53 yards on 13 carries. Senior Bryce Gallagher piled up 111 yards in returns.
Flathead last used 5-10, 165-pound junior Eric Reyna at running back after losing three running backs to injuries, including No. 1 back Seth Adolph. It is not known whether Adolph or any of the other injured ball-carriers are back after the team essentially having last week off. Fullback Jonathan Baker, a 5-9, 190-pound junior, figures to be in the lineup. Chief receivers include tight end Bobby Lowry and wideouts James Flannigan and Austin DeMars.
The Braves’ defensive leaders include linebacker Jonas Nyman and cornerback Trae Vasquez, The line is anchored by 5-10, 230-pound junior Daniel Long and 6-2, 200-pound senior Matt Gash-Gilder.
Defensive leaders for the Bulldogs last week included Austin Lee, Greyson Mandic, Corbin Walker and Brian LaFond in the pass rush and run stop. Tyler Vetter was a leader in the secondary.
Grey said the lineup will remain the same.
Caprara, O’Connor and Will Brandon will again in receiver spots with Peterson at quarterback. Nathaniel Ferguson, who kicked a 25-yard field goal in the win, will be at tight end. Mortensen continues as the crunching running back. Up front, Grey said the Bulldogs will start Cody Berge at center, Mandic and Jeff Queer at the guards, and Riley Dobb and Connor Miller at the tackles.
Defensively, Mandic and Walker will start at tackles, LaFond and Jake Moore will be at the ends, and Willie Anderson, Dobb and Jacob Masters will be the starting linebackers. O’Connor and Vetter will play the corners with Gallagher and Tommy Martz manning the safeties, Grey said.