By Bill Foley
Aidan Lee and Carl Anderson found some quality time in the bottom of a fumble scramble Friday night at Missoula County Stadium.
After Quinn Sullivan and Austin Endy forced a fumble, the two Bulldogs ended up fighting each other for the football, each with a firm grip on the pigskin, at the Missoula Big Sky 26-yard line.
“I said, ‘Is that you, Carl?” Lee said on the sideline following the turnover. “He said, ‘Yeah,’ so I said, ‘Here, you take it.”
The Bulldogs then jumped up to celebrate the takeaway.
Five plays later, Bulldog quarterback Tommy Mellott scored on a 2-yard run. After Trevyn Roth’s extra point, the Butte High had a commanding 20-0 lead.
The turnover that led to a touchdown was one of many plays made by the Bulldog defense that sparked Butte High to a 37-14 win that will send the Bulldogs to the Class AA playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
The Bulldogs, winners of their last three to finish the regular season at 5-5, will play at No. 2 Billings West next Friday night.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Butte High junior running back Kameron Moreno, who ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns in the wet Missoula air. “The defense really saved our butt there.”
“The whole defense played fantastic,” Moreno said. “They really molded into an elite defense over the past couple of weeks, and they’ve been stopping everyone. It’s been awesome.”
Butte High’s offense struggled punching the ball into the end zone on several possessions in the first half. The defense made sure that didn’t matter.
“Defensively, they played unbelievable,” Butte High coach Arie Grey said. “They really kind of kept us in the game.”
The list of Bulldog defensive stars goes on and on. Lee, Endy, Connor McClafferty, Lucas Kingston and Rylan Waananen led the way up front. Calvin Snow, Scout Allen, Dakota Eggers, Sullivan and Anderson made some big tackles. Kash Kelly and Kale McCarthy broke up passes.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our defense,” Anderson said. “Our D-line held their own and stopped the run. Our backers were great in pursuit and coming up and stopping the run, too. Our DBs were lock down almost the entire night.”
“I’ve got to really give a lot of credit to Dakota Eggers,” Anderson added of the senior safety. “He comes up and really hypes our defense up and tells us we need to get our head back in the game. He’s a real energy guy for us.”
From there, the offense and the foot of Roth took over.
Roth connected on field goals of 19, 37 and 25 yards — all in the second quarter — to tie a school record. He now shares the mark of three field goals in one game with Shanty House (1908), Dalton Dawson (1925) and Chad Hall (2002).
“He’s confident, he’s relaxed, and he knows what he’s doing,” Grey said of Roth, who also hit all four of his extra-point attempts.
While the Bulldogs weren’t perfect in the red zone early on, the Bulldogs got going quickly when it came to moving the ball.
Mellott hit Kelly for 36 yards on the third play of the game. That was the first of eight catches for 104 yards by Kelly, a senior who has put together his best two games of the season the last two weeks. Kelly also grabbed a 43-yard reception later in the first quarter.
After Mellott found Quinn Sullivan for 11 yards, Moreno punched the ball in from 3 yards out to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first.
Roth made it 13-0 with two field goals in the second quarter. His second, from 37 out, one was set up when Snow batted down a pass on a fake punt, giving the ball to the Big Sky 25-yard line.
After the shared fumble recovery set up Mellott’s TD, Troth hit from 25 yards to make it 23-0 just 2 seconds before halftime.
Big Sky got on the board in the third quarter when Jett Rebish scored on a 4-yard run with. That play came right after Colter Janacaro broke a 58-yard run.
The Bulldogs, though, responded with a 13-play, 63-yard drive capped by a 5-yard Moreno run to make it 30-7.
Rebish added a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter to pull within 30-14 with 10:56 left in the game. That score came one play after Janacaro hit Ben Maehl for a 45-yard gain.
Butte capped the scoring when Moreno plunged in from 1-yard out with 3:23 left.
Moreno did his damage on 34 carries. As usual, Moreno dished the credit to his offensive linemen, Kingston, McClafferty, Ryan McCarthy, Ty Raiha and Kyle Harding.
“The offensive line played fantastic tonight,” Moreno said. “They opened up so many holes for me. They deserve more credit.”
Mellott ran for 48 yards and passed for 187. McCarthy and Sullivan each caught three passes, while Tucker Winston hauled in two.
Janacaro ran for 90 yards on 16 carries, but the Bulldogs held the Eagles to just 12 first downs. They had one first down in the first half.
Butte High racked up 20 first downs and 367 yards of total offense.
“We put some nice drives together and did some things,” Grey said. “I’m proud of them. They just kept battling all year. They kept believing in each other and the coaches, and I can’t be more proud of what the kids and coaches have done these last few weeks.”
“They battled and they hung in there,” Grey said. “Hats off to Big Sky. They played hard.”
Butte High ended the game in victory formation for three Mellott kneel downs. The Bulldog crowd, which was at least as large as the Big Sky contingent, erupted when senior Josh Neil, who can’t play because he recently had surgery on his leg, trotted onto the field for the plays.
“That was pretty cool,” Grey said. “I never really got the OK from mom. Josh just told me we got the OK from mom.”
Grey said Neil is an inspiration for the Bulldogs on and off the field.
“He’s the guy who carries our sledgehammer out, which means he’s the hardest working guy in our program,” Grey said. “It was pretty special to have him go out there for three snaps. So, the motivation is to figure out how to get him out there each week.”
Next week Butte High will take on 9-1 West in the Bulldogs’ first playoff game since 2013.
“We’ve been talking about it all week that we’ve got to take care of business here,” Anderson said. “I don’t really know what to say. It feels surreal to be in the playoffs. We knew we had the potential. Game after game, we kept getting closer and closer, and everybody was focused. I’m very happy we made it. There’s no words to explain this feelings.”
Butte High 7 16 7 7 — 37
Missoula Big Sky 0 0 7 7 — 14
BUTTE — Kameron Moreno 3 run (Trevyn Roth kick), 10:10
BUTTE — FG Roth 19, 10:56
BUTTE — FG Roth 37, 7:49
BUTTE — Tommy Mellott 2 run (Roth kick), 6:15
BUTTE — FG Roth 25, :02
BIG SKY — Jett Rebish 4 run (Jim Seielstad kick), 7:17
BUTTE — Moreno 5 run (Roth kick), :48
BIG SKY — Rebish 2 run (Seielstad kick), 10:56
BUTTE — Moreno 1 run (Roth kick), 3:23