By Bruce Sayler
Butte High took some promising steps on the football field in its opener last Thursday, and head coach Arie Grey is looking for a little bit more progress this week in hopes of a win.
The Bulldogs will play Missoula Hellgate Thursday in a 7 p.m. Class AA Conference matchup at MCHS Stadium in Missoula. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM or online)
The Butte High squad is coming off a 27-19 loss to Kalispell Flathead in its opener last week in Bigfork. The game was played in Bigfork because of a delay in completing an artificial turf project at Kalispell’s facility, Legends Stadium.
“We did some really nice things in our first game,” Grey said. “But, we didn’t capitalize on opportunities. We really like Nate Ferguson as a kicker, but we’d prefer to use him on just kickoffs and extra points. We want to finish our drives and not have to field goals. Nate understands that, too.”
Ferguson caught a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott and kicked two field goals and an extra point during the opener while having a good game.
“Defensively, we gave our offense an opportunity at the end,” Grey said. “It blocked an extra point. But, we had 37 missed tackles in that game and you don’t win any games with that many missed tackles.”
Hellgate returned to varsity football this year after sitting out of the schedule last year due to lack of numbers from the upper classes. Head coach and Butte native Mick Morris, a former Bulldog defensive back, used the year to lay football foundation, playing a junior varsity program and then overseeing offseason team building over the last several months.
The Knights came out and scored a touchdown right away against Bozeman last week before succumbing 40-7.
Two blooming sophomore stars will be manning quarterback of their teams’ offenses. Mellott will beat the controls for the Bulldogs, and Rollie Worster will call the signals for Hellgate.
Grey said the Knights, winless in four-plus years and on a 34-game losing streak, came out aggressively against Bozeman, scoring on their first series after converting a couple of fourth-down plays.
“Their quarterback is really talented and they like to have the ball in his hands,” Grey said. “They also like their vertical pass game and they really like their quarterback run game.”
He said the Hellgate running backs have power and lend to the ball-control efforts of the Knights’ offense. It is the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Worster, though, who is the key to the offense.
“They came out really fired up against Bozeman and will against the Bulldogs,” he said. “We really have to match it.”
Some inexperience was evident in the Butte High game with Flathead, Grey said.
“I looked out there one time and we had only one guy out there on defense who played any at all for us last year,” he said. “Last week, we didn’t manage our highs and lows very well. We had a lull in the third quarter and we can’t have any of those.
“We have to remember this is a game. The kids, I think, were pretty hard on themselves. It’s good in that they care, but you have to have some fun. Relax and play the game.”
The 6-foot, 165-pound Mellott completed 16 passes against Flathead, including the 24-yard TD connection with Ferguson. Ferguson, a 6-1, 210-pound senior caught three passes for 101-yards, and wideouts Kash Kelly and Kaden Hanni latched onto four aerials apiece to pace the passing game. Senior running back Bo Mortensen scored a short touchdown and gained 33 yards on 13 carries. Mellott threw for 195 yards and ran for 36.
“Offensively, we have to do better in our screen game,” Grey said. “We averaged only 2.1 yards per catch and we need to get that up to 7 or 8 yards per play. We didn’t run the ball as hard as we wanted to. We need to step up and sustain our drives.
“We ran only 55 plays and we need to have the ball for 70.”
Grey cited a series that wasted a chance for the Bulldogs.
“We had a great interception and then went three-and-out,” he said. “Of course later, Nate got a great fumble recovery and then Tommy had a great pass to him for the touchdown.
“The ball is the program and we need to take care of the program.”
Hellgate’s only scoring play in its opener was Worster’s touchdown pass to Ceaton Oliver.
The Knights list a 56-man roster, including a dozen seniors in their return to action.
Safety, Dakota Eggars, picked off two passes to lead the Butte High defense, which also received strong play up front from Greyson Mandic and Jeff Queer. Several others also had good games.
Grey said the lineup remains the same as nobody from Butte High was injured in the opener. Heavy wildfires smoke chased the Bulldogs inside for practice on Tuesday, but Grey said most of the work was completed during Saturday and Monday sessions.
“I’m proud of the kids and how they bounced back this week,” Grey said. “You’re going to have mistakes in Week 1. You just have to know it’s always going to happen. We just have to limit them. Last week was the first time for a lot of the guys to play under the lights. Now, we move on to Week 2.”
Butte High starters:
Offense — Center — Carter Pribnow, 6-1, 240, senior; Guards — Greyson Mandic, 6-2, 230, senior, and Brennan Nielsen, 6-3, 200, senior; Tackles — Robbie Leipheimer, 5-11, 21-0, senior, and Kyle Harding, 6-1, 220, junior; Tight End — Nate Ferguson, 6-1, 210, senior; Wide receivers — Kaden Hanni, 6-1, 140, senior; Kody Keene, 5-11, 160, senior; and Kash Kelly, 5-9, 140, junior; Running Back — Bo Mortensen, 5-11, 195, senior; and Quarterback — Tommy Mellott, 6-0, 165, sophomore.
Defense — Nose Tackle — Jeff Queer, 6-2, 240, senior; Tackle — Corbin Walker, 5-10, 215, senior; Ends — Nate Ferguson, 6-1, 210, senior; and Greyson Mandic, 6-2, 230, senior; Middle Linebacker — Carl Anderson, 5-8, 170, junior; Outside linebackers — Cole Walker, 6-0, 170, senior; and Marcus Garcia, 6-0, 195 senior; Cornerbacks — Robin Bagley, 5-9, 140, senior; and Kale McCarthy 6-1, 155, junior; Strong safety — Dakota Eggars, 6-0, 160, junior; and Free Safety — Ty Peterson, 5010, 150, senior.
Specialists — Kicker — Nate Ferguson; Punter — Nate Ferguson; Punt Returner — Kash Kelly; Kickoff Returners — Kash Kelly and Josh Neill, 5-9, 150, junior. Holder — Tommy Mellott.