By Bill Foley
It has been 43 weeks since the last time Butte High played a varsity football game at Naranche Stadium.
That was when a crowd of about 10,000 packed the storied Uptown Butte state for the Nov. 22 Class AA state championship game.
Friday’s 7 p.m. battle between the Bulldogs and Kalispell Glacier will not draw a crowd anywhere close to that, even if more fans will be allowed into stadium than previously planned. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online at kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)
Butte High coach Arie Grey said his team cannot concern itself with the crowd size. He said the Bulldogs are simply eager to go, whether the stadium is full or not.
“The kids are ready to play, and they’re excited to play,” Grey said. “It’s not because they want to play at home or whatever, they want to get better.”
Butte High is coming off last week’s 14-9 loss at Helena High. Despite the loss, Bulldog coaches were upbeat about their team’s performance in the opener. At the time, Grey told his team it was only inches away from a win. He felt even better about the performance after watching the video of the game.
“The film doesn’t lie,” Grey said. “We were a lot closer than we thought.”
Glacier, on the other hand, enters Week 2 looking to improve after an opportunistic 43-20 home win over Helena Capital.
The Wolfpack turned a bad Capital snap in to a touchdown, and Wyatt Thomason returned an interception 20 yards for a score. In all, Glacier outscored Capital 22-0 in the fourth quarter, and the Wolfpack scored the game’s final 29 points.
“They did a really good job hanging in there,” Grey said of coach Grady Bennett’s Wolfpack. “They handled adversity really well. Watching on film, I thought, ‘Man, this is a very resilient team.’ Then they took advantage of their opportunities.
“They’re really good defensively,” Grey said. “They’re a lot different than the defensive team we saw last year. You turn on the film and they’ve got 11 guys to the ball. They play the game the right way. I was impressed. This is a hard-nosed football team.”
J.T. Allen, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior, returns as the starting quarterback for the Wolfpack, whose season ended with a 51-14 loss to Butte High in Butte.
He has some weapons in junior running back Jake Rendina and junior tight end Luke Bilau.
“They have a returning starter at quarterback who is pretty darn good,” Grey said. “They’ve got one of the top running backs in the state. They’ve got one of the best tight ends in the state. They’re a pretty dangerous team offensively. This is going to be a challenge for us. Our kids are up for it.”
Grey said the Bulldogs are ready to take the usual improvement jump from Week 1 to Week 2, and he expects senior quarterback Blake Drakos to make major strides in his second career varsity start.
Officially, Drakos completed 15 of 29 passes for 145 yards. He also took six sacks, most of which cannot be blamed on the offensive line. Grey attributed the struggles to footwork, hesitation and rushing some throws. The coach pointed to some good throws two, including a dime he dropped to Banner Cetraro for a 17-yard touchdown.
“He’s just going to continue to get better,” Grey said of Drakos. “He made some really good throws. When you turn on the film and watch it, he made some really good throws and plays.”
Butte High’s offense will see the return of senior center D.J. Jackson and senior receiver Ryan Neil. Both players were unavailable last week.
Jackson will join the mix of linemen Timmy Hollingsworth, Ty Raiha, Aidan Lee, Zach Tierney and Nick Steilman. With brothers Gavin and Christian Vetter toting the ball behind that unit, Butte High looks to have a formidable running attack.
Cetraro, Neil, Cole Stewart, Dylan Snyder, Cameron Gurnsey, Cole Worley, Braydon Cetraro and big tight end Jacob Olson give the QB plenty of weapons.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were stout, especially in the clutch. The unit stepped up to get the ball back for the offense three times late in the fourth quarter.
Lee, Tierney, Raiha, Hollingsworth, Olson and Dominic Scown rotated on the line, in front of linebackers Christan Vetter, Tucker LeProwse and Riley Chiotti.
Rylan Richards Tanner Huff, Dawson Roesti, Christen Hansen and Ryan Neil give the Bulldogs a solid, playmaking secondary.
Casey Kautzman, who easily drilled a 31-yard field goal last week, handles the kicking and punting duties.
Grey said the Bulldogs are ready to get back on the field.
“We’re going to play a really good football team in Glacier,” he said. “We’re at home, and we want to defend our home turf.”