Bulldogs take playoff push to Great Falls

By Bruce Sayler

Butte High has had to prepare for two Great Falls High quarterbacks this week as the Class AA high school football season heads into the home stretch.

Butte High and the Bison will vie on Friday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls. Arie Grey, head coach of the Bulldogs, said every game on the AA slate will likely have bearings on the nearing playoffs — and such could be the case the entire three weeks of the season. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM or online)

The races are just so tight after the first two or three spots.

So, Butte High, at 2-5, and Great Falls High, at 1-6, are still holding hopes.

“We’re going to go to Great Falls and play in a great atmosphere at a great facility,” Grey said, pondering how many important high school football games have matched the Bulldogs and Bison over the many years. “They’re another storied program and probably are thinking this year the same deal as us — feeling like we should have won a couple more games by now.”

The Great Falls High win was in the early season, a 28-20 over Billings Skyview. The Bison lost by a narrow 37-34 score at Kalispell Glacier last week.

Senior quarterback Kevin Boes missed the game, but junior Blake Thelen filled in and did an admirable job keeping the Bison in the game.

Grey hasn’t been sure which QB the Butte High team will see this week, and it could be both. So, the Bulldogs have been practicing to defend against both.

“They have two good quarterbacks,” Grey said, “and they have good skill kids, an offensive line that does a good job and a great defense.”

The Butte High coach said Great Falls High is about 50-50 on offense with run and pass. Veteran coach Mark Samson guides the Bison and Grey said they looked, as expected, to be very well-coached when he and his Butte High staff watched Great Falls High play Missoula Sentinel earlier in the season at Naranche Stadium. The game had been moved to Butte because of thick wildfire smoke shrouding Missoula.

“They play a 4-3, cover-4 on defense,” Grey said. “They run a similar defense to (Montana) Western’s where they keep everything in front. They bend but don’t break.

“They have good skill kids and will be a great challenge for us,” Grey said. “They play well at home, they compete and they’re a physical team.”

Memorial Stadium recently underwent renovations for the installation of artificial turf.

“They throw the ball really well,” Grey said of the Bison. “They line up in multiple formations and try to create advantages. They run the ball hard and their offensive line is pretty good-sized.”

Top receivers in the Great Falls High offense include 150-pound junior wide-out Kyle Torgerson, 165-pound junior wide-out Lucas Banderob and 210-pound senior tight end Kyle Winkler.

The running game features 180-pound senior Jordan Komac. Travis Tomei, a 205-pounr senior, is a leader at running back and linebacker. Spencer Jovick, a 235-pound senior, anchors the line. The biggest Bison is 280-pound junior Nathan Zobrak.

Butte High lost 41-22 last week to Billings Senior, the winner of 20 straight games and ruling state AA champion. Turnovers were likely the difference. The Bulldogs lost three fumbles, two interceptions and had a punt blocked.

“We did some really good things, still,” Grey said. “We played hard and I had to think what it would’ve been like if we didn’t have those turnovers, or if they were the ones who had those turnovers.

“We gave ourselves opportunities. I’m proud of our players and coaches. We know there are things we need to shore up, but that’s ongoing. Teams that win Super Bowls find things they need to shore up.”

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott threw three touchdown passes against Billings Senior and tossed them to three different receivers — Kaden Hanni, Josh Neil and Brady Deck. Senior running back Bo Mortensen rushed for 106 yards. Mortensen and Neil fronted a good running attack while Neil caught six passes, as did both Hanni and junior Kash Kelly, who drew heavy coverage much of the night. Deck snared two passes. Corbin Walker, Kody Keene, Connor Cunningham and Kale McCarthy also caught throws.

Defensive leaders included linemen Corbin Walker and Jeff Queer, and defensive backs Dakota Eggars and Kale McCarthy. Robin Bagley blocked a field goal try, and defensive end Ryland Waananen had two tackles for yardage losses, including a 13-yard quarterback sack.

“The disheartening thing about those turnovers we had was that they weren’t forced,” Grey said. “So, we’ve been working on taking care of the ball better. These kids keep coming to practice every day working to get better”

Butte High will again be without senior defensive end/kicker/punter/tight end Nathaniel Ferguson, who has been out about a month with a leg injury. However, senior linebacker Marcus Garcia has returned to practice, Grey said, and may see action this week.

Waananen took over for Ferguson and has emerged as a defensive leader. Deck is playing at tight end while soccer standout Trevyn Roth is filling in a kicker and Mellott has taken on the punting chores. Ty Peterson has moved to linebacker from safety to adjust for Garcia’s absence while Deck steps in at strong safety.

“This is a big week,” Grey said. “A lot of things are going to shake out in Double-A this week. The next three weeks will be a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Probable Butte High starters follow:

Offense — Center — Carter Pribnow, 6-1, 240, senior. Guards — Brennan Nielsen, 6-3, 200, senior, and Kyle Harding, 6-1, 220, junior. Tackles — Greyson Mandic, 6-2, 230, senior, and Robbie Leipheimer, 5-11, 210, senior. Tight end — Brady Deck, 6-0, 165, 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. Quarterback — Tommy Mellott, 6-0, 165, sophomore.

Defense — Nose tackle — Jeff Queer, 6-2, 240, senior. Tackle — Corbin Walker, 5-10, 215, senior. Ends — Ryland Waananen, 6-2, 190, junior, and Greyson Mandic, 6-2, 230, senior. Middle linebacker — Carl Anderson, 5-8, 170, junior. Outside linebackers — Ty Peterson, 5-10, 150, senior, and Cole Walker, 6-0, 175, senior. Cornberbacks — Robin Bagley, 5-9, 140, senior, and Kale McCarthy, 6-1, 155, junior. Strong safety — Brady Deck, 6-0, 165, senior. Free safety — Dakota Eggars, 6-0, 165, junior.