By Bill Foley
The Class AA football playoffs are within reach of the Butte High Bulldogs heading into Friday night’s game against Billings Skyview.
The 3-5 Bulldogs need to win Friday against the 0-8 Falcons and then next week at 2-6 Missoula Big Sky to likely advance to the postseason.
That, however, isn’t the focus of the Bulldogs when they kick off against the Falcons at 7 p.m. at Naranche Stadium. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online or on the KBOW app)
Butte High coach Arie Grey said his Bulldogs are focused on self-improvement and winning for the team’s seniors on Senior Parent Night.
“This is our seniors’ last game on this field,” Grey said. “We’ve got to get up for that. That’s the old kids playing for the young kids, the old kids playing for the fact that this is the last time they get to play in Naranche Stadium. We’ve got to get ready to roll.”
Seniors suiting up in a Bulldog uniform for the final time at the storied stadium are Carl Anderson, Ben Biastoch, Dakota Eggers, Austin Endy, Ethan Hafer, Kyle Harding, Kash Kelly, Kale McCarthy, Ryan McCarthy, Conner Miranda, Josh Neil, Calvin Snow and Rylan Waananen.
Justin McNabb and Trevyn Roth are also seniors on the team. They’ll be in Billings for Butte High’s playoff matches with West. The Bulldogs will also honor senior manager Gabbie Parini.
“It’s sad to see those seniors go,” Grey said. “It’s their last game in Naranche Stadium. You want them to go out on a high note, and play hard on Senior Night.”
Grey scoffed at the notion that the Bulldogs could possibly look past the Falcons, who have yet to pick up a win in the post-Ron Lebsock era. Nathan Wahl is the head coach now, and these aren’t your father’s Wing-T Falcons.
“We don’t have any reason to think we can just waltz into any game,” Grey said six days after his Bulldogs beat Great Falls High 28-14 at Naranche. “Nobody should. That’s not the way to live life.”
Grey said the Falcons, who are coming off 54-17 loss at Helena High, pose many challenges for Butte High.
“Skyview, they play hard. They’re going to fly around,” Grey said. “Skyview’s got some good players. They do some good things. Defensively, they’ve shown some different things based on who they’ve played. Against Helena High they blitzed a lot more than in other games.”
“We’ve got to play sound, physical football. It’s a game. They’re high school kids. They’re going to come to play.”
Senior Dominic Stringari is Skyview’s dual-threat quarterback. Junior Joshua Macy leads the Falcons in rushing. He’s also a threat in the passing game along with senior Ethan Taylor.
Butte High’s defense is coming off perhaps its best game of the season.
Anderson leads the Bulldogs with 64 tackles from his linebacking position behind linemen Endy, Rylan Waananen and sophomore Aidan Lee.
Junior Scout Allen and fellow safety Eggers follow with 58 and 48 take downs on the season. Waananen has 43 tackles at defensive end, while McCarthy has 40 at corner back.
McCarthy and Allen lead the Bulldogs with two interceptions apiece. Eggers, Kelly and Anderson each have one.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have been run-heavy the last two weeks.
Since stepping in for the injured Neil, who was lost for the season with a practice injury a couple of weeks ago, junior Kameron Moreno has amassed more than 300 yards rushing over the last two games.
His bruising running style has been welcome for an offensive line that is hitting its stride. McCarthy and Harding start on the line along with juniors Konor McClafferty and Lucas Kingston and sophomore Ty Raiha.
“That offensive line is really gelling,” Grey said. “So, we’ve been able to get into our run game and do some things that have really allowed us to control the tempo of the game.”
The Bulldogs, who killed the final 7 minutes, 50 seconds of the win over the Bison, aren’t changing their identity, Grey said. The Bulldogs are taking what the defenses have been giving them.
With junior quarterback Tommy Mellott and weapons such as juniors Quinn Sullivan, Tucker Winston, Cory West and Peyton Hettick and Kelly, McCarthy and Miranda, the Bulldogs will be more than happy to turn to the passing and screen attack.
“They’re going to pick their poison,” Grey said. “Great Falls High picked their poison. They were going to try to stop us throwing the ball. So, we’re going to run the ball. Skyview could say, ‘We’re going to stop the run,’ so we’ve got to throw the ball and run our screen game.”
Before the Bulldogs can worry about the playoffs, Grey said the Bulldogs must get better. “Improving every day” has long been the mantra of the Bulldog coach.
“I tell this to kids all the time, ‘Don’t listen to people when they tell you you’re bad. And don’t listen when they tell you you’re good,’” Grey said. “‘You know when we have a good game, we did some bad things. You know when we had a bad game, we did some good things.’ We’ve just got to get better every day.”
“If we can get 1 percent better every day,” Grey said, “we’re going to be pretty good.”
Class AA standings
Billings West 7-1
Helena High 6-2
Billings Senior 6-2
Kalispell Flathead 6-2
Great Falls High 4-4
Missoula Sentinel 4-4
Butte High 3-5
Kalispell Glacier 3-5
Helena Capital 3-5
Missoula Big Sky 2-6
Missoula Hellgate 2-6
Great Falls Russell 2-6
Billings Skyview 0-8