Bulldogs eye improvement as they return to Naranche

By Bill Foley

Naranche Stadium will undoubtedly have a big crowd for the first time since the 2019 Class AA state championship game when Butte High hosts Great Falls High Friday.

The 7 p.m. game will feature the Bulldogs and Bison locking horns for the 111th time on the football field. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)

So, history and excitement will be in the air as the Mining City buzzes around its beloved Bulldogs. (Great Falls High Roster; Butte High roster)

Butte High head coach Arie Grey, however, said all that has not been on the minds of the Bulldogs as they look to bounce back from last Thursday’s 18-17 loss to Billings Senior in Billings.

“We really haven’t talked about it,” Grey said. “We talked about getting better.”

Now in his 14th year as head coach of the Bulldogs, Grey is still preaching his philosophy of gaining 1 percent improvement every day. He said that has helped his Bulldogs focus on the Bison instead of the last-second loss to the Broncs.

“If you live under the mantra that we’re going to get 1 percent better every day, you bounce back from things a lot better,” the coach said. “If you live and die off of one night, I think you have a harder time bouncing back.”

Like last Thursday’s opener, Friday’s game is a non-conference tilt. It will have no baring in Butte High’s quest for a Western AA title, though it could play a role in a tiebreaker come playoff time.

Grey and the Bulldogs are looking to use the game as a final tune up before they start conference play next week at home against Helena High.

“It’s a great challenge for us in our stadium against a really good team,” Grey said. “We need to make that Week 1 to Week 2 jump that we always talk about.”

Like the Bulldogs, the Bison enter the tilt at 0-1 after falling 22-0 at home to highly-touted Helena High team. Grey said that game had as much to do with what the Bengals did right as it did what the Bison did wrong.

“They moved the ball. I think they were in the red zone four times and didn’t get anything out of it,” Grey said. “They had their opportunities and their chances, and they just didn’t take advantage of it. They’re well coached, and they’ll be ready to roll.”

Grey and the Bulldogs are focus on 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior quarterback Reed Harris. While the Bengals head the dual-threat quarterback somewhat in check, Grey said the Bulldogs cannot automatically assume to do the same.

“They’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” grey said. “Knowing Coach (Mark) Samson, they probably had a pretty rough week of practice. They’ll come ready to play.”

Butte High will be focusing on the ground game in their final non-conference game, and Harris is a big part of Great Falls’ rushing attack.

“The run game is critical for us, on both sides of the ball,” Grey said. “We have to do a better job stopping the run than we were last week. Part of that is locating where their quarterback is. He’s pretty dangers when he gets out in the open. He’s big and he’s fast. We’ve got to know where they are at all times.”

Butte High will enter the game with its quarterback situation still unsettled. Junior Jace Stenson, who passed for two touchdowns last week, will start the game. Senior Kenley Leary, who started last week, will also see time.

Grey said he will once again rotate the quarterbacks throughout the game. He would not say if one quarterback has an edge in winning the starting job. He did not even say that the starting job is one to be won.

The coach played coy on his plans for the position throughout the season.

“They both did good things. They both did bad things,” Grey said. “They’re both great kids, and we’ll just continue to evaluate.”

The Bulldogs starting offensive line appears to be set. From left to right, the Bulldogs will go with Daniel Huerta, Zach Tierney, Rylan Mulcahy, Kooper Klobucar and Quinn Boyle Tierney is a junior, the rest are seniors.

Grey said to expect senior Devin Cook and juniors Wyatt Mullaney and Blake Facincani to rotate in for some snaps as well.

The coach praised those big men for their performance in Billings.

“By the second half, our offensive front was playing really good football, and that is a pretty dang good front on both sides of the ball for Billings Senior,” he said.

Seniors Gavin Vetter and Hunter Hotalen ran the ball behind that big line last week. Junior Cameron Gurnsey had a monster day at receiver. He caught nine passes for 126 yards.

Other targets in the passing game include seniors Dylan Snyder, Cole Worley and Braydon Cetraro.

Defensively, senior linebacker Keegen Muffich registered 14 total tackles to lead the Bulldogs last week. Senior linebacker Luke Andersen tallied 11, while senior safety Cole Stewart got in on eight tackles, and senior lineman Max Demarais and junior cornerback Kale McDonald got in on seven.

Demarais, Tierney, Klobucar, Snyder and seniors Riley Downey Marcus Manson lead the Bulldogs up front. Snyder and Downey each got in on a sack.

Senior Connor Konda will start at nickel back, while senior Holt Downey starts across from McDonald at cornerback. Junior Wiley Dallaserra starts at safety next to Stewart.

Senior Casey Kautzman, who boomed kickoffs into the end zone and averaged 46 yards per punt, drilled a 40-yard field goal last week.

Grey said his team is eager to get back onto the field

“They’re pretty pumped. They’re excited about it,” he said. “I’m excited to have a home game and have it be pretty normal. The kids are excited about, but it’s nothing that we really talked about. We’ve just got to get better today.”

The Butte High-Great Falls High rivalry dates back to 1904, and the Bulldogs lead the all-time series 56-48-6. The teams played in the postseason 16 times, including 10 times in the state championship game. (Butte High-Great Falls High rivalry)