By Bruce Sayler
Surprise, … it’s no surprise.
Expected annually to be a state football playoffs contender in Montana high school Class A, Butte Central is looking for a bounce-back this season after going 3-5 and missing the postseason in 2021.
Despite the rare miss of playoff appearance, the Maroons might again be knocking on the door of contender status.
The 34-man roster head coach Don Peoples Jr. is fielding for his 34th season goes big on size and athleticism while still battling the old malady of shallow depth in the ranks.
“I think we’re going to be better than a lot of people think we are,” he said in a telephone call Wednesday evening.
The unveiling will take place on Friday when BC steps onto unfamiliar home turf at Naranche Stadium to open the season against Polson with a 7 p.m. kickoff. The Pirates are well-valued as state championship candidates this seasonn.
Butte Central has been playing its home games at Montana Tech’s Bob Green Field in recent years, but his season’s opener was moved to Naranche Stadium due to some facility equipment problems at Bob Green Field, which are being worked on this week in advance of Montana Tech’s home opener next week.
Peoples noted that the last game played in old Naranche Stadium was a Butte Central win over Miles City in the 1973 state Class A playoffs semifinal round. The Maroons went on to win the title. The stadium was condemned by the city prior to the next season and Butte Central and Butte High home tilts were moved to Montana Tech “for a couple years” until Bulldog Memorial Stadium was constructed at East Middle School and housed the teams’ games for several years. Naranche Stadium was resurrected as a varsity stadium for Butte High in 2011 and BC moved to Montana Tech a couple years later, leaving Bulldog Memorial Stadium as a top-notch track and subvarsity football venue.
“We’re excited, we have a lot of kids returning” Peoples said. “And, we have some newcomers. We can have 16 to 18 players on varsity and 16 to 18 more for jayvees. We can play varsity and jayvee this year, which is good for the kids.”
The coach said dedicated offseason work has made the Butte Central players bigger and stronger heading into the season.
“We’ve had a good summer,” he said. “We have gotten better since last season and we’re anxious to see what the team has to offer when the season starts.
“I think we are athletic and have nice size. On defense, we’re athletic and have good speed, while on offense, we’re big up front and have good weapons, I think.”
The list of Maroon returnees is headed by All-State defensive back Kyle Holter, who is also a dangerous receiver. Konnor Pochervina returns bigger from his All-Conference second-team running back efforts of last year. He was also an honorable mention linebacker in the All-Western A selections. Cayden Kibler was honorable mention all-conference on the defensive line in 2021. Dougie Peoples and Eric Loos were both limited to half-seasons because of injuries last year, but Peoples as a second-team all-conference receiver the season prior.
A key plus shown in summer drills, coach Peoples said, is the emergence of quarterback Jack Keeley, who steps into a starting role after backing up last year. He is a returning starter in the defensive secondary.
“I think our athleticism and speed are strengths,” Peoples said, “and so is Jack Keeley throwing the football to our big receivers.”
The potentially lethal passing attack should pair with Pochervina’s punishing running game to keep opposing defenses careful. With Polson quarterback Jarrett Wilson expected to pass more than 50 times, Friday’s game likely won’t adhere to the old streetlight curfew in town.
Peoples said his offensive side starters will likely be Canyon Kibler, 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior, at center; Cayden Kibler, 6-1, 285, senior, and Dawson Rogers 5-11, 265, senior, at the guards; Riley Gelling, 6-0 205, senior, and Tanner Keith 6-0, 210, junior; or Ayden Durkin, 5-10, 185, junior, at the tackles; Loos, 6-4, 210, senior, at tight end; Rye Doherty, 6-1, 190, senior; Zane Moodry, 6-4, 190, junior; Dougie Peoples, 6-4, 170, senior; or Jake Tauscher 5-11, 165, junior, at wide receiver; Pochervina, 5-11, 200, senior, at running back; and Keeley, 6-2, 195, junior, at quarterback.
The Kiblers, Gelling, Loos, Doherty, Moodry, Peoples and Pochervina all saw starting or starting-level time last year. Gelling is a fourth-year starter. Rogers transferred to Butte Central last January from Harrison and did not play football last year. Keith is a transfer from Corvallis.
On defense, the Maroons will likely start, Peoples said, the Kibler brothers at the tackles, Loos and Gelling at the ends, Doherty and Pochervina at inside linebacker, Moodry at outside linebacker, Keeley and Holter at cornerback, and Justus McGee, a 5-11, 175-pound sophomore, and Tauscher at safety.
Ethan Andersch, a 5-11, 155-pound senior, returns as the kicker and spent much of the offseason attending kicking camps, Peoples said. Moodry will be the punter.
Gelling, Pochervina and Cayden Kibler are the team captains.
The Polson QB is one of the Wilson triplets on the Polson team gaining much attention from college football programs. An older brother, Tanner Wilson, starred for the Pirates previously and spent time in the Montana Grizzly program as a quarterback. Their father is former longtime Polson coach Scott Wilson, now an assistant director for the Montana High School Association.
The Pirates’ only loss last year under head coach Kaden Glinsmann was to Laurel in the state Class A semifinals.
“They are very well-coached and have an aggressive, pass-happy offense,” Peoples said, noting the game speed should be blistering on the artificial turf. “We have to contain Wilson because he’s a good runner, too. If he gets outside (the containment), it won’t be a good thing for us.
“Anytime you play a team with that kind of offensive power, you have to move the ball, keep it out of their hands as much as you can, and put points on the board.”
Familiar faces dot Peoples’ staff of assistants with son Danny serving as offensive coordinator and brother Doug again the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator. Also, Robin Moodry is the running backs coach while Richie O’Brien coaches the defensive line, Tom Peterson returns as defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, Scott Mansanti coaches the secondary and Alex Havlovick helps instruct the offensive line. Don Peoples Jr. Is in charge of receivers.