MISSOULA — Butte High’s next home football game will not be its last of 2021 at Naranche Stadium.
The Bulldogs clinched at least one home playoff game Thursday night with a 30-27 nail-biting Western AA victory over Missoula Hellgate at Missoula County Stadium. (Stats)
With the win, Butte High (5-1 conference, 6-2 overall) secures one of the top four spots in the Western AA. The top two teams receive a first-round bye, and the next two play home games.
Butte High closes out the regular season at home next Thursday against defending state champion Missoula Sentinel.
“We played hard,” Butte High coach Arie Grey said. “We figured out a way to win at the end of the game, and I think that’s important.”
Junior quarterback Jace Stenson passed for 308-yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs in a game that saw the lead change eight times. He hit Cameron Gurnsey for an 8-yard pass in the back of the end zone to give the Bulldogs the lead for good with 4 minutes, 1 second left in the game.
The game-winner came on fourth down and 4.
Butte High’s first three scores came courtesy of the right leg of senior Casey Kautzman, who etched his name even deeper into the Bulldog record book. He booted field goals of 30, 31 and 27 yards, and Butte High lead 9-7 early in the second quarter.
“We’ve got to be better in the red zone, but obviously it’s really nice having Casey,” Grey said.
The Knights got on the board when junior quarterback Connor Dick hit Ian Finch for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Dick and Finch both have roots that run deep in the Mining City.
Dick dumped a screen pass to running back Jacob Sweatland, who went 56 yards for a score to make it a 13-9 Hellgate lead. The 2-ponit conversion failed.
Stenson answered by hitting Gavin Vetter for a 21-yard strike with 5:23 on the second quarter clock, making it 16-13 Butte.
Hellgate went back on top 20-16 on a 3-yard Sweatland run with 1:39 left in the half, and the Bulldogs answered quickly again. Stenson hit Dylan Snyder on a catch and run that went 56 yards for a score.
That long TD made it 23-20 Butte 55 seconds before halftime.
Scoring slowed down in the second half, and Dick hit Leo Filardi for a 30-yard touchdown with 9:34 left in the game. Filardi’s PAT, which was longer than usual thanks to a holding call on a 2-point conversion try, made it 27-23 in flavor of Hellgate.
Vetter, who finished with 99 yards on 18 rushes, busted a 46-yard run to the 12-yard line. Four-plays later, Stenson hit Gurnsey for a ninth time for the lead.
Dick and the Knights drove down to try to take the lead as time expired. Zach Tierney, Max Demarais and Riley Downey got in on a huge sack to help preserve the win. The Bulldogs dropped Dick for a 7-yard loss to the Bulldog 31 with 1:06 left.
“It was huge,” Grey said of the sack. “Huge. Huge. Huge. It was an unbelievable play defensively”
The sack set up a third and long, and Butte High took over on downs after two incompletions. With 52 seconds left on the clock, the Bulldogs went into victory formation.
Stenson completed 21 of 29 passes for his first 300-yard game of his career. Gurnsey racked up 118 yards his nine grabs. Snyder went over the century mark again with seven catches for 105 yards.
Cole Worley picked up 64 yards on four catches. Vetter finished with 120 yards of offense with the TD reception.
Dick completed 15 of 40 passes for 253 yards and the three scores. Dick picked up 129 yards on the ground.
“He just does a great job keeping his eyes down field, and he was able to pick up some yards with his feet,” Grey said.
Finch caught six passes for 80, and Sweatland had 98 yards on four grabs. Sweatland also ran for 60 yards.
Hellgate, which is fighting for the final playoff spot, fell to 1-4 in conference and 2-5 overall.
With three field goals in one game, Kautzman tied for the school record with Trevyn Roth (2018), Chad Hall (2002), Dalton Dawson (1925) and Shanty House (1908).
The field goals give him 11 on the season, which is a new school record. Heading into the night, he shared the record with Ralph Olsen (1924) with eight. He also pulled away from Matt Berg (2008-2010) for the career record with 20 field goals. Berg booted 17.
Kautzman also added on to his school record in extra points. He now has 121. Berg is second with 77.
Keegen Muffich, who is Butte High’s leader in tackles, has held on every kick this year. Morgan McClernan is the long snapper.
“It’s great having him,” Grey said. “He does a tremendous job. That whole unit has done a good job.”
The Bulldogs extended their winning streak over Hellgate to 10 games, dating back to 2010. Butte High leads the all-time series with the Knights 30-6.