Win secures Butte High playoff spot
By Bill Foley
The Bulldogs could not have picked a better audience for Friday’s bounce-back performance.
Butte High got a pair of touchdown runs from Jace Stenson, 122 yards rushing form Gavin Vetter and an inspired defensive effort as the Bulldogs battled back from a 14-3 deficit to beat Kalispell Glacier 20-17 in front of 2,683 at Naranche Stadium. (Stats)
With the win, Butte High clinched a berth in the Class AA playoffs.
They did it all while 200 or so Silver B’s, Golden B’s and one Diamond B (Tom LeProwse) cheered on the Bulldogs from the best seats in the house on Silver B’s Night.
“I’m glad we could put on a show for them,” Butte High senior defensive lineman Max Demarais said. “They built this program for us. They’re the Founding Fathers for us. I’m glad we could put on a show for them. That was pretty awesome.”
For a while, it looked like the show would have a sad ending for the old Bulldogs.
Glacier jumped out to a 14-3 in the game that Butte High needed to win to stay in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye.
Gage Sliter hit Jake Turner for a 55-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes, 35 seconds on the first quarter clock to give the Wolfpack a lead it would hold into the fourth quarter.
After Butte senior Casey Kautzman booted a 45-yard field goal later in the first, Slitter hit Connor Sullivan for a 54-yard score to make it 14-3 early in the second.
Kautzman added a 33-yard field goal as Butte High cut the lead to 14-6 heading into halftime.
The Bulldogs entered the break knowing they only had three field goals to show over their last six quarters of play. Butte High fell 43-3 at home the week before to Helena Capital.
Anyone who thought the Bulldogs were in trouble, however, thought wrong.
Butte High’s offense finally got going thanks to the legs of Stenson and Vetter and the blocking of Daniel Huerta, Zach Tierney, Rylan Mulcahy, Kooper Klobucar, Wyatt Mullaney, Devin Cook and Blake Facincani.
Stenson scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to give the Bulldogs their first touchdown in two weeks with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
The score came just after Stenson made his play of the year on a 28-yard completion to Vetter. Stenson was falling down as he found Vetter, who ran the ball to the 11.
“I felt the pressure from behind,” the junior quarterback said. “I knew he was behind me so I kind of short armed it. I got the ball to my playmaker. I got it to Vetter, he started running and got down field.”
Butte High’s 2-point attempt to try to tie the game failed, and the Dogs trailed 14-12. But they had momentum.
The defense, which played much of the second half without the injured Tierney, made sure it stayed that way.
“Our defense did a great job,” Stenson said.
Even after the Wolfpack extended the lead to 17-12 on a 51-yard field late in the third quarter, it seemed like the Bulldogs were in control.
Butte High took the lead for good on another 1-yard plunge by Stenson with 10:02 left in the game.
Junior safety Wiley Dallaserra got the ball rolling on that score. He picked off a pass and returned it 12 yards to the Wolfpack 39-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
One play before he scored, Stenson ran up the gut for 18 yards to the Glacier 1.
Again, Butte High’s 2-point conversion failed, but the Bulldog defense got those points back for the Bulldogs.
With 4:28 on the clock, a quick Bulldog pass rush drew a holding penalty in the end zone. That resulted in a safety and a 20-7 lead.
The next time the Wolfpack got the ball, the team lost 23 yards.
“It was a great day for the defense,” Demarais said. “It was just all back to fundamentals. We just did our job, filled our gaps and played hard.”
The fact that Tierney was on the sideline for so much time makes the defensive performance so much more impressive.
“That was a tough guy to replace, but Kade Schleeman stepped up,” Demarais said. “He’s only a sophomore, but he played great tonight.”
Per usual, senior linebacker Keegen Muffich led the Bulldogs with 11 total tackles. Demarais and Dylan Snyder each got in on six, while Ethan “Easy” Cunningham and Connor Konda got in on four.
Muffich, Snyder, and Marcus Manson registered tackles for a loss, and Cunningham broke up a pass.
Vetter racked up his 122 yards on 29 carries. Stenson ran for 70 yards to go along with 177 yards through the air.
Snyder, who missed last week with an injury, caught four passes for 88 yards to lead the Bulldogs, who were playing without injured receiver Cameron Gurnsey and tight end Braydon Cetraro.
Snyder’s night included a 49-yard reception. Vetter, Jonas Sherman, Cole Worley and Kenley Leary also caught passes.
Jake Rendina ran for 75 yards on 16 carries for the Wolfpack. Sliter passed for 185 yards.
Butte High coach Arie Grey showed more excitement than ever as the clock ran out on the win. He said that was because of his team’s rebound from a horrible and shocking loss.
“Look at what our kids did,” Grey said. “A lot of people probably doubted them, but they didn’t doubt themselves.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” the coach added. “I’m proud of the defense played all night long. The offense got better as the game went on. We were physical in the run game, which is something we needed.”
Butte High improved to 4-1 in conference and 4-2 overall. The Bulldogs remains in a second-place tie with Capital, which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Defending state champion Missoula Sentinel holds down first at 4-0.
The top two teams receive a first-round bye. The next two teams play home games.
Stenson said the Bulldogs were more inspired by last week’s punch in the mouth from the Bruins.
“That last week humbled us,” he said. “We came back and worked our ass off all week at practice. We just came out and played hard.”
“The last one was a heartbreaker,” Demarais added. “We had a bad taste in our mouth. We practiced hard all week, just came out and balled out tonight.”
Butte High will travel to Missoula Hellgate next Thursday. They will wrap up the regular season the following Thursday at home against Sentinel.