By Bill Foley
The football season got off to a horrible start for Jake Dennehy. It ended with a fairytale.
Dennehy kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired as Butte High beat Bozeman in a 38-36 classic in front of a crowd of around 8,000 at Naranche Stadium.
As an eerie, almost haunting fog set in shortly after the game, Dennehy was one of the last Bulldogs to board the two fire trucks that paraded the champions through the streets of the title-starved town. It was almost as if the ghosts of Naranche Stadium were rising up to show their approval.
Someday, Dennehy’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as all the other Butte legends that called the storied stadium home.
It couldn’t possibly happen to a better person.
The Bozeman Hawks had just scored 15 points in less than a minute to turn the biggest Butte party of the century into nightmare. The scoring barrage, which included the recovering of an onside kick by Chris Johnson, put Bozeman up 36-35 with just 22.9 seconds left.
Bozeman coach Troy Purcell opted to go for the game-winning 2-point conversion, and it paid off as suddenly the Will Weyer to Will Dissly combination couldn’t be stopped. It was like a Disney ending for the Hawks.
Of course, it only seemed like the script was written for a Hawk miracle.
Then Dalton Daum returned the ball to the Butte High 46-yard line. Then Dallas Cook scrambled for a big run. Then Cook hit Daum for a quick pass to the sideline.
Then, the Bulldogs sent out Dennehy to kick. Then the crowd went, huh?
A 46-yard field goal? Are you kidding? Did Dennehy ever kick a field goal in a game? Didn’t he have his extra point blocked after Butte High’s first touchdown?
It didn’t matter.
You could almost tell the kick was good by the boom that echoed through the stadium as Bozeman and Bulldog fans collectively held their breath.
Then the Butte crowd rushed the field to mob its heroes as Dennehy’s kick split the uprights, barely clearing the crossbar. The celebrating crowd included a bunch of members of the Butte High 1991 team, the last Butte High football team to take that fire truck ride.
It couldn’t have been more perfect for the Bulldogs or Dennehy. Just like the season couldn’t have started much worse for Butte High’s No. 12.
Dennehy entered the season thinking about a college football career for the first time. He had grown from a scrawny little thing as a freshman into a 6-foot-3, 195-pound man of a senior. He had the body of a college football player.
He had overcome so much, too. A couple of years ago, Dennehy broke his arm so bad in football that he had to miss his entire sophomore season of basketball.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Dennehy helped the team however he could. He kept stats during the games. And he worked to get back on the field, track and court for the Bulldogs. Through it all, he was always about the Bulldogs.
Dennehy also showed he was an All-World friend and teammate along the way.
During the track season of his sophomore season, Dennehy’s classmate, teammate and good friend Zach Bunney was diagnosed with leukemia. Along with help from junior Brock Bond, Dennehy led the charge to raise money for Bunney’s fight by selling blue wristbands.
It took a while, but Bunney reached full strength about the same time Dennehy did. They were ready for a big senior season.
Bunney ran wild on the competition while proving to be an inspiration to sick children — and healthy adults, for that matter — around the world.
Dennehy saw it all come crashing down on the first Friday night of the season, though. He dislocated his shoulder while playing linebacker during the season-opening win over Great Falls Russell. He said his shoulder popped out of place three times that game.
So, instead of playing college football, Dennehy could only sit and hope his shoulder could possibly hold up long enough so he can play basketball and run track for the Bulldogs before he undergoes surgery.
Nobody would have blamed Dennehy if he felt sorry for himself. Of course, nobody who knew him would have expected it.
Instead, Dennehy took his role as captain seriously. He led the charge in firing up the Bulldogs for every game. He also kicked and punted for the Bulldogs.
During the championship game, Dennehy made a painful touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff. He slowly ran off the field with his arm hanging low after the tackle.
You didn’t have to attend one class at medical school to know Dennehy’s shoulder had come out of the socket again.
During the fourth quarter, I found myself standing by Dennehy on the Bulldog sideline.
“Your shoulder came out again, didn’t it?” I asked, rhetorically.
“Yeah,” Dennehy said. “It’s in now, though. So it’s good.”
“Man,” I shot back. “You’re one tough kicker.”
“I’m a linebacker,” he said before I could even finish the sentence.
Dennehy certainly does have a linebacker mentality, and that’s a good thing for the Bulldogs and Butte Americans around the world.
If Jake Dennehy was merely a kicker, he might have missed that kick.