Butte High’s football team wraps up its regular season Thursday night in Missoula, when the Bulldogs take on the Sentinel Spartans at Missoula County Stadium.
The Bulldogs (7-2) have earned a playoff spot, but due to a five-way tie for first place in the Class AA standings, Butte needs a win – possibly by two touchdowns – and some help from a few other teams to give itself a chance at a No. 1 seed.
A loss to the Spartans (2-7) would likely lead to Butte having to play on the road for at least the first round of the playoffs. Even with a Bulldog win, a large number of scenarios can play out due to the logjam at the top of the standings, leaving Butte anywhere in the top four.
Not much of that matters to the Bulldogs right now, according to head coach Arie Grey.
“Our focus is on taking care of business Thursday night,” Grey said Wednesday afternoon. “The kids know what they have to do. It’s crazy for us to worry about any of that other stuff. We need to work on playing well against a very good team and taking care of the things we can control.”
Butte High is coming off a tough 34-28 loss to Helena High last Friday, resulting in the throng of teams with 7-2 records. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start, then turned the ball over three times in the loss.
“We did all that, we didn’t play well in the red zone and we put ourselves in poor field position,” Grey said. “But even so, we gave ourselves a chance to win. I’m proud of how the kids battled.”
Though the loss hurt, Grey says it was also a good wake-up call for his team.
“We came in Saturday morning and had a phenomenal workout,” he said. “We put (the loss) in the past. We’re working hard, getting better each day, and we’re doing the little things we need to do to be successful. I’m happy with how the kids have responded.”
Butte High will need to play a solid game to be successful against Sentinel according to Grey, who says the Spartans’ record doesn’t indicate what they can do.
“Offensively they’re explosive,” he said. “They have a good quarterback and some very good players. Our defense is going to have to do a great job locating their skill guys. We’ll need to be communicating.”
The Spartans lost the services of standout running back Tanner Reinschmidt, who suffered a concussion in the Spartans’ 63-21 loss to Billings Senior last Friday, but they will still have quarterback Tres Cunningham and wide receiver Jake Messerly, who will be playing in their final high school game Friday. The duo combined to score all three of Sentinel’s touchdowns against the Broncs.
Butte High’s defense got a big game from Mason Woods in Helena, as the junior linebacker picked up nine solo tackles, two assists, a half sack and a tackle for loss. Bo Taylor notched five solo stops, three assists, a tackle for loss and one and a half sacks. Daniel Kloepfel, Zach Bunney and Tanner Tregidga all stood out on defense, as well.
Special teams is an area where Sentinel has Grey’s attention.
“They’re scary on special teams,” he said. “They’ll kick it onside and they’ll show us all kinds of fake punts. They have a great kick returner too, but that will just be a great opportunity and a great challenge for us.”
Grey lauded his special teams units for improving as the year has worn on, and noted the play of Kieffer Hepola, Connor Lee and Joey Blunt on the coverage teams. Also, Grey pointed to some stellar returns he’s seen from Jake Eisenbarth.
“We tell them they only get that one play, so they have to make sure they do their job,” Grey said. “We have to win the field position battle.”
Grey has simple goals for his team’s league-leading offense.
“Offensively for us, we have to take care of the ball,” Grey said. “We have to be physical and do what we do well. We have to play hard and do all the little things right.”
Butte’s offense has averaged nearly 500 yards and 42 points per game this season, as a veteran offensive line leads the way for junior quarterback Dallas Cook and a talented group out of the backfield. The Bulldogs surpassed the 1991 Butte High team’s record for season yardage last week, and will simply add to the new mark from here out. Grey pointed to a combination of excellent players and his team’s offensive philosophy for the outpouring of yardage this season.
“As a no-huddle team, we work hard to maximize reps,” Grey said, noting that the Bulldogs lead the state in the number of offensive plays per game. “The more plays, the more yards and the better off you’re going to be. We’ve been able to push the tempo and do some things with the players we have.”
Grey also credited a strong work ethic held by his players, many of whom play on both sides of the ball.
“We’re able to do what we do because of what the kids do in the offseason,” he said. “They have bought in to what we’re teaching, and they’ve put in the time and effort to give themselves the opportunity to play at such a high level play after play.”
The convoluted playoff picture will be in clearer focus after the weekend’s play is in the books. The five teams with 7-2 records – Butte, Helena High, Great Falls Russell, Billings West and Kalispell Glacier – all have a good chance at improving to 8-2 after the final week of the regular season.
Eight teams advance to the playoffs, with the top four teams hosting first-round games. Also looking good to get into postseason play is Bozeman (6-3), Billings Skyview (5-4) and Helena Capital (5-4). Missoula Big Sky is also a longshot at extending its season with a 4-5 record.
In addition to Butte High’s game against Sentinel on Thursday, key matchups on Friday include CMR playing Great Falls High, Glacier at Missoula Big Sky and Billings West at Billings Skyview. Helena High and Capital clash in an always tough crosstown game Saturday afternoon at Nelson Stadium in Helena.
Butte High can secure a top seed throughout the playoffs, but the Bulldogs need some help to do so. The simplest formula for the No. 1 seed has Butte winning, Glacier losing to Big Sky and Helena losing to Capital. Another route to the top has Butte winning by at least 14, Glacier winning by less than six, and either West or Helena winning by the at least 14 points.
In the event of a Helena Capital win on Saturday, a Billings West win over Skyview would put the Bears in the top position. That combined with a 10-point win by Glacier would give the Wolfpack the second seed and leave Butte in third. Less than a 10-point win for Glacier would put CMR third and Butte fourth.
A lot of “ifs and buts” for sure.
“We’ll know more after the weekend,” Grey said. “For now, we just need to take care of business on Thursday.”
Offense: QB — Dallas Cook, 6-4, 210, jr. HB — Dalton Daum, 6-1, 165, so. FB — Zach Bunney, 5-7, 165, sr. WR — Jon Allen, 5-11, 165, sr. WR — Bryce Armstrong, 5-10, 165, sr. TE — Tyler Earles, 6-3, 190, jr. LT — Zack Erickson, 6-0, 220, sr. LG — Drew Schleeman, 6-3, 215, sr. C — Dustin Lamiaux, 6-0, 240, jr. RG — Anthony Moritz, 6-1, 280, sr. RT — Nick Butorovich, 6-4, 300, sr.
Defense: NG — Anthony Moritz, 6-1, 280, sr. DE — Daniel Kloepfel, 5-11, 200, sr. DE — Billy Robinson, 6-0, 225, sr. OLB — Nate Matteson, 5-10, 175, sr. ILB — Mason Woods, 5-11, 180, jr. ILB — Blake Kraus, 5-8, 190, sr. OLB — Bo Taylor, 5-8, 150, sr. CB — Zach Bunney, 5-7, 165, sr. SS — Connor McCarthy, 5-8, 145, sr. FS — Tanner Tregidga, 5-11, 170, sr. CB — Andre Vialpando, 6-0, 160, sr.