By Bruce Sayler
Naranche Stadium should look especially good to Butte High’s football team Friday night.
The Bulldogs finally return home after a rugged last two weekends on the road against some of the best Class AA high school football competition in the state.
Friday, Butte High will celebrate Senior Parents Night with a Western AA Conference game against Missoula Hellgate. It will kick off at 7 p.m. and will mark the last home game of the Bulldogs’ regular season as they so long and thank you to this year’s senior members and their parents.
The Butte High seniors to be recognized before the home crowd are Ethan Cunningham, Tyler Duffy, Blake Facincani, Luke Garrison, Cameron Gurnsey, Isaac Kohler, Kale McDonald, Wyatt Mullaney, Owen Myers, Sean Ossello, Taylor Parks, Kip Pumnea, Jasmine Richards, Joe Schrader, Jonas Sherman, Keaton Snyder, Jace Stenson, Zach Tierney, Alex Watson and Mallorie Williams.
Hellgate comes in with a 2-5 record, including a 1-4 conference mark with one-point wins over Belgrade (non-conference) and Kalispell Flathead. Butte High is 3-4 and 2-3. The Bulldogs fell 41-0 to undefeated Helena Capital and 55-41 to Kalispell Glacier in their last two games, both of them on the road.
The Knights are coming off a 52-13 home loss to Capital after giving Missoula Big Sky a battle in a 20-19 defeat.
“Hellgate is good,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey said. “They are very, very athletic. They have a tremendous quarterback (Butte-rooted Connor Dick) and good wide receivers. They are huge up front on both sides of the ball.
“This will be a great challenge for us. Western AA, all of Class AA actually, is tough this year. We’re excited to be at home – always excited to be in our house.”
The Knights’ offense is a pass-first attack. Even when 6-foot-4, 195-pound Dick isn’t throwing to a Leo Filardi or Asher Topp or any of the other pass-catchers, the quarterback is a threat to take off on a run. Dick will run for yardage, for breakaways or to help receivers get open. Hellgate seems to play more three-run homer than station-to-station with the big play always a front option.
The quick-strike attack is designed to take advantage of the team’s athleticism with new head coach Ryne Nelson, formerly head of the Frenchtown program.
“Hellgate throws the ball and, with Connor at quarterback, they’re good at rushing the ball,” Grey said. “He’s very talented with the ball in his hands. We have to keep him contained.”
The big line is topped out by 6-2, 275-pound senior Alex Shields and 6-2, 260-pound senior Ben Parks.
“The key for us will be in the trenches and control of the line of scrimmage,” Grey said. “We have to be better on special teams.
“And, really, the key for us is going to be to play one play at a time and go have some fun. This is about the windshield view and not the rearview mirror.”
Injuries have been a bother in some cases for Butte High’s plans, and Grey said two Bulldogs will be missing this week’s game because of them, but also two players who have been sidelined will be back in action.
“We’re doing OK,” he said. “The kids are working hard.”
Senior quarterback Jace Stenson has had a good season with a battery of capable receivers in Gurnsey, Watson, Ossello, Rueso Batterman, Jonas Sherman and freshmen Hudson Luedtke and Cayde Stajcar. Trey Hansen has been the main ballcarrier, but missed last week. Garrison, McDonald and Cade Johnson have also toted. Senior Zach Tierney, 6-3, 270, anchors the line with Facincani, Wyatt Mullaney, Kade Schleeman and others.
Many of the same individuals are leaders on defense with Parks, McDonald, Cunningham and Snyder in the secondary. Kyler Stenson is among the leaders in quarterback sacks. Garrison, at linebacker, is the team’s tackles leader.
“It is Senior Night,” Grey said, “and it will be an honor to honor these seniors.”