A generation of frustration came a step closer to an end Friday at Naranche Stadium, as Butte High clobbered Billings Skyview 40-21 in a first-round Class AA playoff football game.
The win not only avenged an early season loss to the Falcons, but was also Butte High’s first playoff victory since the 1991 state championship season.
Butte High running back Jake Eisenbarth, who wasn’t even born until 1996, turned in an impressive performance with three rushing touchdowns, while Zach Bunney added two more on the ground. Junior quarterback Dallas Cook passed for 327 yards, including a 21-yard score to Jon Allen.
It was the first playoff game at Naranche since the storied facility reopened in 2011 after 37 years of use as a practice and sub-varsity game field. After four decades of waiting, the stadium will need just a week until the next time, as Butte High will play host to Great Falls Russell in the semifinals. Kalispell Glacier will host Bozeman in the game on the other side of the bracket.
“Hats off to our coaches for putting together a plan, and to our kids for executing,” fifth-year Butte High head coach Arie Grey said after the game. “I’m truly proud of all the kids and coaches.”
Butte High lost a 55-48 shootout to the Falcons in late August. The difference this time around was timing and defense. The Bulldogs got off to a quick start, scoring on their first two possessions, while the Butte High defense limited the Falcons to a handful of big plays and three touchdowns. Skyview scored eight touchdowns in the teams’ first meeting.
“I couldn’t be more proud of coach Arntson and our defense,” Grey said. “Since that first loss they’ve come along by leaps and bounds, and they came up with stop after stop tonight.”
Butte’s defense held the Falcons to 315 offensive yards Friday, compared to 577 the first time around, and they did it right from the start. Skyview had to punt twice and turned the ball over on downs in the first half.
The Bulldog offense also showed up ready to play, scoring on its first two drives. Eisenbarth got the capacity-plus crowd revved up with a big return of the opening kickoff, landing the Bulldogs in Skyview territory right of the bat. Bunney showcased his ability to get around the end, leaving the visiting defenders behind on a 26-yard scamper around the right.
The crowd figured in the game early as well, as Skyview’s offense was called for a delay after an audible took extra time to get to each player. That led to a punt, which in turn led to another impressive display by Butte’s offense.
Cook found Jon Allen on a pair of passes good for 30 yards, while an inside slant pass to Bryce Armstrong set up a pair of runs from Eisenbarth, the second of which tallied six points from a yard out.
The Bulldog defenders were well prepared for the vaunted Skyview running attack, holding the Falcons to 100 total yards on 34 carries, but the pass game wasn’t as cut and dried. Skyview’s third drive saw four completed passes, including a 30-yarder from Konner Wiechman to Matt Fuhrman.
Butte answered with touchdowns on its next two possessions, the first a 23-yarder from Cook to Allen, and the next a 6-yard blast up the gut by Eisenbarth. The Bulldog defense got the ball back to the O via downs, and Butte nearly completed a 93-yard drive in less than two minutes, though the last-second pass fell incomplete out of the back of the end zone.
Tyler Earles registered a tackle for loss to help end Skyview’s first drive of the second half, followed by another Eisenbarth score. This one was set up by a 45-yard gain on a Cook-to-Armstrong pass. The 8-yard TD run saw Eisenbarth with a big opening in the defense, compliments of the offensive line.
“We all worked together,” said Butte guard Drew Schleeman. “Everyone in the stadium knew where the ball was going on that one. We just do what we do. We’ve learned from our mistakes and we’re getting this down.”
“Those big guys do so many great things,” he said. “They work hard all the time and they do everything we ask them to. Coaches Schmidt and Dennehy have done great things with those guys this season, and they get better every week.”
Skyview went to the air again for its second touchdown, as Dane Muller hauled in a 65-yard score from Wiechman, though Butte got it right back on a slippery 16-yard TD run from Bunney. The Falcons dug deep for their final touchdown in the early going of the fourth quarter. A double-reverse pass from Tommy Little found its way to Muller, though that was the end of points scored for both sides.
After a night of enjoying the first-round win, the Bulldogs will be back to work in preparation for the always-tough Rustlers of CMR. Russell held off a difficult charge from a strong Billings West team Friday night to claim a 28-21 win.
Glacier got a couple late defensive touchdowns to rally for a 21-13 win over Helena Capital, and will now host Bozeman, which squeaked past Helena 25-24 at Vigilante Stadium. Butte beat both Bozeman and CMR earlier in the season, but has not faced top-ranked Glacier.
Skyview 0 7 6 8 – 21
Butte 14 12 14 0 – 40
Butte – Zach Bunney 26 run (Jake Dennehy kick), 10:39
Butte – Jake Eisenbarth 1 run (Dennehy kick), 7:17
Skyview – Matt Fuhrman 30 pass from Konner Wiechman (Cole Sowden kick), 10:52
Butte – Jon Allen 23 pass from Dallas Cook (kick failed), 8:57
Butte – Eisenbarth 6 run (kick failed), 5:33
Butte – Eisenbarth 8 run (Dennehy kick), 6:22
Skyview – Dane Muller 65 pass from Wiechman (kick failed), 5:05
Butte – Bunney 16 run (Dennehy kick), 2:39
Skyview – Tommy Little 19 pass from Muller (Fuhrman pass from Wiechman), 11:52
First downs 16 29
Rushes-yards 34-100 42-211
Passing yards 215 327
Comp-att-int 8-14-0 26-35-0
Penalties 7-52 6-60
Fumbles 0-0 1-0
Rushing: Skyview: Matt Fuhrman 10-61, Alex Picicci 10-31, Konner Wiechman 4-(-9), Dane Muller 2-3, Drake Schafer 4-1, Riley Barta 1-3, Caleb Wain 2-7. Butte: Jake Eisenbarth 27-109, Zach Bunney 7-59, Dallas Cook 4-27, Dalton Daum 1-9.
Passing: Skyview, Wiechman 7-13-0-196, Muller 1-1-0-19. Butte, Cook 26-35-0-327.
Receiving: Skyview, Muller 5-119, Fuhrman 1-30, Wain 1-37, Tommy Little 1-19. Butte, Jon Allen 8-112, Tyler Earles 5-39, Bryce Armstrong 7-82, Bunney 1-22, Dalton Daum 3-44, Keiffer Hepola 1-11.