By Bill Foley
This game has been almost seven years in the making.
For the first time since Butte High beat Bozeman 38-36 in the Class AA State Championship game on Nov. 16, 2012, the Bulldogs will play a playoff football game Friday at Naranche Stadium.
The 9-0 Bulldogs, who had a first-round playoff bye, will take on Kalispell Glacier in the 7 p.m. Class AA quarterfinal matchup. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online)
“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Butte High 12th-year head coach Arie Grey said of facing coach Grady Bennett’s Wolfpack. “They’re playing really good football right now.”
The game will mark the ninth time the Bulldogs and Wolfpack will meet since 2007. Glacier holds a 6-2 advantage. It will be the second time the teams played in the playoffs. The Wolfpack won a 62-55 shootout over the Bulldogs in 2013.
The playoff game will be the second time the Bulldogs and Wolfpack play this season. Butte High went to Kalispell to beat Glacier 55-28 on Sept. 20.
Glacier is 5-5 including a Week 2 loss at Mead, Washington. The Wolfpack is 4-2 since falling to the Bulldogs, and that includes last week’s 33-24 playoff victory at Great Falls High.
“They have a talented running back, their quarterback is playing better, and they have a talented receiving corps,” Grey said of the Wolfpack. “Their defense just continues to get better. They’re really good in special teams.”
J.T. Allen threw a pair of touchdown passes — to Colin Bowden and Luke Pilau — and Jake Rendina ran for a pair of scores to lead the Wolfpack in the playoff game in Great Falls.
Rendiina, a 5-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore ran for 151 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the loss to the Bulldogs. Allen threw for three touchdowns and an interception, to Bulldog senior Quinn Sullivan.
Of course, that game was all about the Bulldog offense, which racked up 590 yards.
Senior quarterback Tommy Mellott had a monster night at Legends Stadium. Mellott, who has 95 combined passing and running touchdowns in his four years at Butte High, had a hand in five scores in the win. He passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 124 yards and a score.
Mellott, who has run for 833 yards and 13 touchdowns, passed for 24 touchdowns to eight different receivers. The future Montana State Bobcat is currently tied with Josh Paffhausen, who led the Bulldogs to an undefeated championship season in 1991, for No. 4 in school history.
He sits behind only Dallas Cook (40 and 33), Dylan Cook (30) and Matt Berg (28).
Kameron Moreno, a senior who ran for 1,054 yards on 16 touchdowns in nine regular-season games, ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Glacier.
Two weeks ago, Moreno passed up Zach Bunney (1,008 yards in 2012) to rank No. 6 on the Butte High single-season list. He is just seven yards behind Matt Pelletier, who ran from 1,061 yards in 1980.
The top four Butte High rushing seasons belong to Jay LeProwse (1,607 in 1997), Jordan Clary (1,232 in 2004), Si Timberman (1,132 in 1997) and Rich Hollis (1,113 in 1982).
The big ground season is a testament to a stout and deep offensive line. Seniors Konnor McClafferty and Lucas Kingston and juniors Ty Raiha, D.J. Jackson and Timothy Hollingsworth have been the starters. Junior Ryalan Ruscheinsky filled in for Raiha last time out.
Seniors Kobe Moreno and Josh Nelson have also found success on the ground. Kobe Moreno, who has played all season with a brace to protect his surgically-repaired knee, has punched in three touchdowns, while Nelson has one.
Butte High also has a deep receiving corps.
Junior Ryan Neil leads the team with 26 catches for 5-4 yards. Senior Peyton Hettick, junior Banner Cetraro, senior Tucker Winston , Sullivan and senior Cory West all have double-digit receptions.
Cetraro leads the way with six receiving touchdowns. Neil and Sullivan have four, while junior Jacob Olson and fellow tight end Hettick each have three, and West caught two.
Winston and Kameron Moreno each have one.
Butte High’s defense has improved steadily as the season progressed. The unit allowed an average of 11 points per game over the last three games.
Senior safety Scout Allen’s 71 total tackles leads the Bulldogs. Junior linebacker Tucker LeProwse is second.
Junior Tanner Huff, Sullivan, Kobe Moreno, junior Aidan Lee, senior Dylan Averyt and junior Billy Kelly all rank high on the Bulldog tackle list.
Lee has registered four of Butte High’s 18 sacks on the season. Sullivan got in on three and a half, while Kameron Moreno has three and LeProwse has two. Kobe Moreno, Allen, Kingston, Averyt, McClafferty, Raiha, Hollingsworth and junior Dominica Scown all got in on sacks, too.
Huff, Sullivan and Kelly each have two interceptions on the season. Neil and junior Rylan Richards each have one.
Casey Kautzman is also a weapon for the Bulldogs. The sophomore kicker has hit on 5 of 6 field goals and 49 of 54 PATs on the season. Kautzman, who has boomed his kickoffs all season, hit on 43-yard field goals twice. He also connected on a game-winning field goal at Missoula Sentinel.
Other Class AA quarterfinal matchups will send No. 5 Helena Capital to No. 4 Billings West, No. 7 Billings Senior to No. 2 Missoula Sentinel, and No. 6 Helena High to No. 3 Bozeman.
The Class AA is not following a traditional bracket. The tournament will be reseeded after each round, with the lowest remaining seed traveling to the highest remaining seed.
Butte High, the Western AA champions, have homefield advantage locked up for as long as the Bulldogs stay alive.