By Bruce Sayler
Helena Capital had to have played well on Friday night because the Bruins won a football game against an inspired Butte High football team,
Capital escaped from Naranche Stadium with a 35-28 win over Butte High in an entertaining Class AA Conference high school football game that closed the season for the Bulldogs. Butte High wound up 2-8 for the season and said goodbye to 15 seniors as the contest played out.
The Bruins raised their record to 6-4 as they next enter the state Class AA playoffs with a first-round road game next week versus Billings West.
Running back/linebacker Seth Schneider was the focus of the Capital victory. Schneider scored four touchdowns and ran for nearly 200 yards on offense, and intercepted three touchedwns on defense. He returned one of the picks 55 yards for a touchdown.
Butte High never led, but a strong first-half rally brought the Bulldogs to a 21-all halftime tie after trailing by two touchdowns. The game was tied again at 28-all before Capital tamped down the winning touchdown on Schneider 5-yard scoring run with 6 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game.
“(The Bulldogs) played hard,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said in postgame comments after he addressed the team for the last time this season. “I told the guys ‘you are winners because winners play hard.’ “
Two fine touchdown catches by senior Kiley Caprara, three forced fumbles and an Ethan Pezdark interception were a few of the key moments for the Bulldogs as they stayed with one of Montana’s top football teams, one now on a five-game winning streak.
“A lot of things maybe didn’t go the way we wanted,” Grey said, seeming to talk about both the game and the season. “We competed great tonight against one of the top teams in the state. We had our chances. We knew we had that potential all season. But, with potential, you still have to make plays and we did that tonight.”
Butte High shut down the Bruins’ vaunted running game well, except for certain moments that proved to be crippling. The teams traded a couple of possessions in the game’s beginnings on punts and failed fourth-down plays. After a Bulldog punt, Payton Pappas took a handoff and was stopped by the Butte High defense after four yards. The defense had been playing the Capital ground attack well.
Then, Schneider took a handoff and zipped, zigged and zagged to a 64-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs tied the score when junior quarterback Ty Peterson tossed over the middle to sophomore Kash Kelly, who leaped to snare the ball above his head, put a move on the defender and outrun the Bruins’ secondary to the end zone.
The 7-7 tally carried the competitors on to the second quarter.
A 28-yard run by Marcus Welnel on a double handoff, then a 10-yard burst by Schneider as he reversed his field after nearly being caught in the backfield position the Bruins for their next score. Schneider nailed it with a 2-yard plunge.
Capital added a 25-yard TD pass between the Pappas twins — Carter the quarterback and Payton the running back — for a 21-7 margin with 5:13 left in the half.
A skirmish occurred on the Butte HIgh sidelines as Josh Neil brought back a kickoff. Penalty flags and officials’ caps littered the field as players’ tempers flared. No punches were thrown and no ejections resulted, but 30 yards worth of mark-offs were assessed the Bruins.
Butte High was fired up and rode the emotions to the 21-all halftime tie — scoring first on Peterson’s 4-yard throw to Caprara to cap the march after the skirmish, and then on a 1-yard sneak by Peterson — his third straight crash into the line from about the same spot — just before halftime. The sneak was set up by Peterson’s 42-yard pass to O’Connor after a Brian LaFond sack caused a fumble Bulldog teammate Jake Moore recovered.
Schneider’s pick six ended Butte High’s first possession of the second half and gave Capital back the lead.
The Bulldogs answered back again. Pezdark intercepted a pass and ran it back 18 yards to the Bruins’ 18-yard line a trade of possessions later. Peterson connected with Caprara on fourth down for the TD after three straight incompletions. The count was tied 28-all with 4:21 to go in the third quarter.
Butte HIgh experienced a drive die on downs at the Capital 35 before Schneider capped a 17-play march with his 5-yard TD tote for what proved to be the winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs maintained their intensity to the last buzzer.
“The coaches had a good plan for this game,” Grey said. “I’m proud of the players and proud of our coaches.”
The Bulldogs went to the air in the waning moments as Peterson tried to throw to a stable of game-breaker capable receivers while eluding a heavy pass rush made more fierce by the knowledge that the Butte HIgh QB had to throw.
As a result, three of the aerials wound up in Capital hands, ending the last chances for Butte High.
“This is a tough group to say goodbye to,” Grey said about the Bulldog seniors. “I liked their attitude every day. They gave a great effort, worked hard and are good students. They never thought they were down.
“This is going to be a great group later in life, too. They set us up for next year.”
Caprara had seven catches for 75 yards and O’Connor three for 66 to pace the Butte HIgh air game while Peterson completed 15 of 37 throws for 216 yards. Running back Bo Mortensen gained 68 yards on 16 carries. Corbin Walker was the tackles leader with 10, and Jacob Masters had nine. Walker, Pezdark and Moore all had fumble recoveries and Pezdark the pick. Walker had a sack and a tackle for loss among his stops, LaFond two tackles for loss and Pezdark and Austin Lee one stop each behind the line of scrimmage.
Colin Sessano had Capital’s other interception and led the Bruins in tackles with seven. Schneider ran for 192 yards on 17 carries as Capital rolled up 333 rushing yards. Carter Pappas completed 10 of 18 passes for 135 yards. Bradley Haller led the receiver with five catches for 67 yards.
The Butte High seniors who played their last game for the Bulldogs were Willie Anderson, Will Brandon, Caprara, Riley Dobb, Bryce Gallagher, LaFond, Lee, Masters, Connor Miller, Clayton Moody, Moore, O’Connor, Pezdark, Jorey Thatcher and Tyler Vetter.
Note: Schneider’s interception return was entered into the computer as an interception then a 55-yard run.