By Bill Foley
Sure, there is this whole matter of the Class AA football playoffs hanging in the balance as the Butte High Bulldogs head to Missoula to take on Big Sky Friday.
The Bulldogs could possibly punch a ticket to the playoffs if they win, and the team will likely miss out on the postseason with a loss (though neither are guaranteed). Kickoff is set for at 7 p.m. at Missoula County Stadium. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online or on the KBOW app)
Butte High coach Arie Grey said his team isn’t going to worry about any of that. Instead, the Bulldogs have one focus on their mind.
“We’ve got to beat Big Sky,” Grey said. “We’ve talked all week. Hey, just take care of business.”
The Bulldogs, who last qualified for the playoffs in 2013, enter the game in a five-way tie for sixth place at 4-5. Only the top eight teams advance to the postseason.
Bozeman, which has the No. 1 seed secured, is in along with Billings West, Helena High, Helena Capital and Helena Senior.
Kalispell Glacier, Great Falls High, Helena Capital and Missoula Sentinel are tied with the Bulldogs.
Sentinel plays at Capital, so one team will fall out of the tie for sure. Glacier plays at 2-7 Missoula Hellgate tonight, while Great Falls battles 2-7 Great Falls Russell on Friday.
After head to head, the Class goes to a strength-of-victory tiebreaker. Each team is awarded points for each win based on the opponent. A win over a top seed is 14 points, a win over a No. 2 seed is 13, and so on down to one point for a win over the last seed, which Butte High got with last week’s 56-13 win over winless Billings Skyview.
Since the final standings aren’t set, those point totals aren’t set. They cannot be calculated until after Friday night’s action.
So, the Bulldogs figure they can only worry about what they can control, and that is winning their third straight game.
“We’ve got to get better every day,” Grey said, sticking to his usual talking point. “If we get better Monday through Thursday this week and get better Friday night, good things will happen. If not, then good things aren’t going to happen.”
Stopping the Eagles means stopping Colton Janacaro, a bruising running back who leads the team in rushing and receptions.
Janacaro, the younger brother of University of Montana freshman football player Levi Janacaro, has averaged 99.4 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
Last week, with senior quarterback Andrew Gardanier out with an injury, Janacaro also took snaps in the “Wildcat” offense.
“Big Sky, they are your typical Missoula Big Sky school,” Grey said of the Eagles, a playoff team a year ago. “They play hard, they play physical, and they’re going to give you multiple looks offensively and try to create advantages of them. They do a nice job offensively of trying to outnumber you in certain ways by running some unbalanced stuff, shifting guys and moving guys.”
“They’ve got some big receivers who do a good job. They throw the ball and they go up and get it.”
Junior Ben Maehl and senior Wyatt Shinn are the top targets other than Janacaro.
Defensively, Grey said the Eagles will look to slow down Butte High’s deep passing attack, which finally clicked last Friday.
“We did a much better job with the vertical passing game,” Grey said, referring to deep completions to Kash Kelly, Quinn Sullivan and Cory West. “Big Sky is the type of team that they’re going to try to take away the vertical passing game. So, we’ve got to do a great job throwing underneath, throwing short and running long. As they get tired of us throwing short and they come up, we’ll take our shots.”
Butte High junior quarterback Tommy Mellott also has weapons in Kale McCarthy, who scored a touchdown on offense and defense last week, Tucker Winston, Peyton Hettick and Conner Miranda.
Junior running back Kameron Moreno is coming off a 117-yard effort on the ground. That is his third straight game breaking the century mark behind linemen Konor McClafferty, Lucas Kingston, Ryan McCarthy, Ty Raiha and Kyle Harding.
Senior linebacker Carl Anderson, who picked up his first rushing TD last week, leads the Bulldogs with 73 tackles. Scout Allen has 60, while Dakota Eggers has 54, followed by Rylan Waananen at 44, McCarthy at 42 and Moreno at 38.
Anderson, Christian Vetter and Austin Endy share the team lead with three sacks apiece. Austin Lee, Waananen and Moreno each have two.
McCarthy’s three picks leads the team. Allen as intercepted two.
“We need all three phases rolling,” Grey said, adding that the Eagles still have a lot to play for despite being eliminated from playoff contention at 2-7. “It’s senior night for them. They’re going to play hard. It’s going to be a four-quarter battle.”
Class AA Standings
Billings West 8-1
Helena High 7-2
Kalispell Flathead 7-2
Billings Senior 6-3
Butte High 4-5
Kalispell Glacier 4-5
Great Falls High 4-5
Helena Capital 4-5
Missoula Sentinel 4-5
Missoula Big Sky 2-7
Missoula Hellgate 2-7
Great Falls Russell 2-7
Billings Skyview 0-9