GREAT FALLS – Five different players scored touchdowns and Butte High played probably its best team football of the season Friday night as the Bulldogs beat Great Falls High 35-21 at Memorial Stadium in the first round of the state Class AA high school football playoffs.
The win sent Butte High on to the quarterfinal round of the tournament. The Bulldogs got over the Bison hump and will take a 5-5 record to Helena on Friday to play the top-ranked and undefeated Capital Bruins in the next round.
The win over the Bison was Butte High’s first road win of the year and avenged a 41-17 loss the Bulldogs suffered to Great Falls High on the same field the second week of this year’s season.
Jonas Sherman, Zach Tierney, Cam Gurnsey, Trey Hansen and Jace Stenson all scored TDs in the Friday night Butte High victory.
“I’m so proud of our boys and of our coaches,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey enthused in a phone call to buttesports.com after the game. “We all just kept trusting and trusting and good things happened.
“I think a key was to be able to be as balanced on offense as we were. We had to be able to run the ball tonight to complement the pass. I’m so proud of that offensive line. Joey Wall, Zach Tierney, Brett Polich, Kade Schleeman, Wyatt Mullaney and Jake Hennelly rotated through there. They really did a nice job. It was key to be able run the ball effectively. Contrary to popular belief, we really are a run-first team. The perimeter blocking was key tonight.”
Great Falls High grabbed a 7-0 lead on its first possession of the game. A sustained Bison march ended in a Rafe Longin one-yard dive. Tate O’Neill kicked the extra point for a 7-0 Great Falls lead with 6 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
Butte High was able to tie the score just before the period ended. An 85-yard drive was saved by a handoff to Tierney, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman stationed in the backfield for short yardage. His 10-yard gain achieved a first down on fourth down and set up the 3-yard scoring pass from Stenson to tight end Sherman. Tyler Duffy’s extra-point kick evened the score at 7-all.
Great Falls succeeded in marching down the field again in the second quarter, but the drive stalled when quarterback Ashton Platt’s 21-yard TD run was called back by an illegal block call. A tackle by Mullaney and Tierney, also playing on the defensive line, on fourth down stopped the drive three yards short of the first-down marker.
It also started Butte High’s next scoring drive. It was interrupted by Wayne Devoss’ sack of Stenson, the 24th sack of Devoss’ career, a Great Falls High school record. Stenson and the Bulldogs recovered and ate up the rest of the quarter reaching the end zone. It happened on Tierney’s 2-yard plunge on fourth down and was the final play of he half, except for Duffy’s extra point. The Bulldogs led 14-7 at intermission. The touchdown was Tierney’s second of the season, having scored on a 10-yard rumble two weeks ago against Missoula Hellgate.
The Bison received the second-half kickoff and took it on a fair catch at their own 24-yard line. Any strategy to catch right up to the Bulldogs ended when, on first down, Butte High freshman Cayde Stajcar intercepted a Platt pass and returned it to the Great Falls High 9-yard line. The opportunity was cashed when Stenson flipped a 6-yard touchdown pass to Gurnsey. Duffy added the kick and Butte High owned a 21-7 spread with 11:13 to go in the third quarter.
The Bison refused to fall off the trail, though. A rare blocking-below-the-waist penalty against the Butte High defense buoyed a Great Falls High drive, finished by Longin’s 10-yard burst into the end zone. O’Neill kicked the point-after and, again, the Bison were within a touchdown of the lead, trailing 21-14 with 7:21 left in the frame. The score held to the fourth quarter.
Butte High converted two fourth downs into first downs on a determined drive in the fourth quarter. Much of the damage on the run was done by Trey Hansen and he was rewarded with the TD carry, going into the end zone from five yards out. Duffy’s boot increased the margin to 28-14 with 6:12 left in the game.
Great Falls High got into the Bulldogs’ territory and neared the red zone before turning the ball over on downs. Butte High used its ball-control ploys, balancing the run and the pass, to get set up for a 1-yared QB sneak by Stenson for the touchdown. With Duffy’s kick, the Bulldogs’ lead was then 35-14 and victory clinched. The time on the clock had shrunk to 2:43.
The Bison did not leave quietly, though. They scored one more time, tallying on a 13-yard pass from Platt to Mason LaPlante.
“Our defense played lights-out tonight from the last time we played them,” Grey said. “I’m so proud of them. Everybody was on the same page tonight. It was huge to get that pick to start the second half. Unfortunately, I missed it because I busy fixing a helmet.”
“This was our first road win of the year,” Grey continued. “It was the first time we’ve played this well in the second half this year. That’s huge, too.
“We’ll enjoy the win tonight and then start getting ready for the next game.”
Stenson, the senior quarterback, enjoyed a big night of numbers passing for 111 yards and running for 88. He completed 17 of 23 throws. His rushing yards came on 31 keepers. Hansen led the ground game with 93 yards on 21 carries. Gurnsey caught six passes for 39 yards and freshman tight end Hudson Luedtke grabbed five for 32.
Great Falls High, finishing with a 6-4 record, was paced by Longin with 105 yards on 15 carries. Platt connected on eight of 18 passes for 86 yards. LaPlante was the top Bison receiver with three receptions for 31 yards. Standout Reed Harris, headed for Boston College, was held to 20 yards rushing and 14 receiving on offense.
Butte High 7 7 7 14 – 35
Great Falls High 7 0 7 7 – 21
GF – Ragfe Longin 1 run (Tate O’Neill kick), 6:52.
BUTTE – Jonas Sherman 3 pass from Jace Stenson (Tyler Duffy kick), 1:16
BUTTE – Zach Tierney 2 run (Duffy kick), :00
BUTTE – Cam Gurnsey 6 pass from Stenson (Duffy kick), 11:13
GF – Longin 10 run (O’Neill kick), 7:21.
BUTTE – Trey Hansen 5 run (Duffy kick), 6:12
BUTTE – Stenson 1 run (Duffy kick), 2:43
GF – Mason LaPlante 13 pass from Ashton Platt (O’Neill kick), 1:38
— compiled by Bruce Sayler for buttesports.com