Nine months after the Butte High football team claimed its first state title in more than two decades, the Bulldogs returned to Naranche Stadium Friday for the annual Purple and White scrimmage.
The defending champions looked like they might be picking up about where they left off – with a lot of excitement.
The last play of the Bulldogs’ magical 2012 run gave them the state title, as Jake Dennehy’s 46-yard field goal lifted Butte to a 38-36 win over Bozeman as time expired.
The first play of the 2013 Purple and White scrimmage saw an 80-yard touchdown bomb from senior quarterback Dallas Cook to junior wideout speedster Dalton Daum, as the explosive Bulldog offense doesn’t seem to have lost a step.
“It was a good scrimmage,” observed Bulldog head coach Arie Grey. “I think we did a lot of good things, and we also saw some places where we still need some work.”
Following the opening punch to the mouth, the Bulldog defense stood fast against its teammates across the line of scrimmage and held ground. The defenders had their work cut out too, as Cook returns after having earned offensive MVP honors from last season’s campaign.
“Dallas does so many special things when he’s got the ball,” Grey said. “But I thought the defense played well too. There were a few misses here and there, but I’m happy with where we’re at.”
Butte High returns some key pieces from last season’s championship run, but some of the questions about this year’s squad center on the ones lost to graduation. Many of those queries were answered to some degree Friday night, and most favorably.
The Bulldog offensive line returns just one starter in senior center Dustin LaMiaux, so concerns about those stepping into the vacated positions were valid. However, the 2013 front looked sharp Friday, even against a big and strong No. 1 Bulldog defensive front.
“They looked good,” said Butte High offensive line coach Casey Dennehy. “It’s hard to tell too much in a scrimmage, but I’m happy before seeing the film. The ‘eye in the sky’ never lies.”
Butte’s defense also has big shoulder pads to fill, but plenty of players stepped up and showed they’re ready for the task.
“We need depth in some places,” noted Butte defensive coordinator Brian Arntson. “Our ones are looking good up front, but we’ll have to do a lot of rotating there. We really just need to play someone other than us.”
Big senior Connor Lee stood tall on the defensive front, along with defensive captains Johnny Walker and linebacker Mason Woods. Sophomore Cian Randall also made a case for reps at linebacker, as he was in on more than his share of stops.
The defensive backfield saw solid work from Daum and Quinn Dennehy, while Tyce Doherty played tough at corner.
Butte’s offensive captains include Cook and senior running back Jake Eisenbarth, who did nice work finding running lanes. The Bulldogs also got some good runs from senior Jason Vesco, Caleb Ferriter and Nick Whalen, while Clay Dean punched in for a 10-yard score.
In addition to Dallas Cook, junior Tyler Wonnacott and sophomore Dylan Cook saw plenty of reps behind center, and both backups showed good promise. Wonnacott proved agile on his feet, while the younger Cook seems to have much of the same throwing ability as his older brother. Dylan Cook tossed back-to-back scoring passes at one point, one a 78-yard strike to Brock LaPier and the next an 80-yard bomb to Quinn Dennehy.
Other receivers to stand out included seniors Peter Granger and Cory Farstveet, while tight end Tyler Earles brings back good skill and size to his spot.
Another big pair of shoes to fill belong to Jake Dennehy, who kicked the biggest field goal of his life on the last play of his career. Dennehy’s cleats might be a bit big for his heir apparent – freshman Sean Staples, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs in at 115 pounds.
What the youngster lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up with a solid kicking leg. Staples was 4-for-4 on PAT kicks and was 2-for-3 on field goals, coming up short on a 38-yard attempt. He’s improving, just like the rest of the team, Grey said.
“The kids are all growing and working hard,” he said. “Our goal is to get better every day.”
Butte High opens its season Friday, Aug. 30 at home against Billings Senior.
Below is a link to the football schedule