By Bill Foley
BILLINGS — Halftime couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Butte High Bulldogs.
Butte High had just cut Billings West’s 28-0 lead in half when time expired in the second half Friday night at Daylis Stadium.
The Bulldogs used a hot defense, inspired special teams play and a pair of touchdown passes by Tommy Mellott to head into the locker room on fire.
That flame didn’t carry into the third quarter, and West held on to beat Butte High 45-27 in the first round of he Class AA playoffs on Wendy’s Field. (Stats)
The victory was the ninth straight for the 10-1 Golden Bears, the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“If we could have just stayed in the second quarter and not gone into halftime,” said Bulldog coach Arie Grey, whose team closes the season at 5-6. “We kind of had everything rolling right there.”
West was rolling first, though, and the Bears piled up a lead that was just too big.
DeMarcus Carr, who ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, scored on touchdowns of nine and 16 yards sandwiched around a pair of West interception returns for touchdown for the 28-0 lead.
Lucas Gibb returned a pick 45 yards for a score, while Jesse Owens took one 75 yards to pay dirt. Both West defenders made great jumps on the ball and were gone in a blink of an eye.
“We didn’t start really fast, and that’s a credit to them,” Grey said. “They came out guns a blazin’ and doing some great things. They’re a pretty talented and explosive team. I’m thoroughly impressed with what they do. They’ve got weapons all over the field.”
Butte High’s defense and special teams set up Butte High’s second-quarter scores.
Mellott hit Carl Anderson for a 5-yard score before finding Tucker Winston, who got a toe in for a nice catch on the sideline, for a 7-yard touchdown.
Between the scores, Christian Vetter got a hand on a West punt to give the Bulldogs a short field.
Butte’s momentum didn’t survive the halftime break.
West took the kickoff and drove for a score to start the third quarter. Carr punched in a 3-yard touchdown run to cap the drive.
The Bears extended the lead to 38-15 with a 27-yard field goal by Zach Figg late in the third quarter.
Mellott scored on a 1-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving Butte trailing 38-20.
Mellott’s touchdown came after Bulldog Kameron Moreno, who was wearing his injured brother Kobe’s No. 25 jersey, appeared to score on a 2-yard run. The score, though, was called off as West was called for a dead-ball encroachment penalty, moving the ball to the West 1-yard line.
After Cade Nelson answered with a 1-yard run to put West up 45-20, the Mellott hit Quinn Sullivan for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 18.
That was as close as the Bulldogs got.
“Once we kind of settled in, we were alright,” Grey said. “We had that little lull in the third quarter.”
Grey praised his team for fighting until the end.
“Hats off to West. Hats off to our guys,” Grey said. “We were down and out and came back. The last time we were on this field we were sitting there 2-5.”
Grey was referring to a tough loss to Billings Senior four weeks earlier. Butte High responded with three straight wins to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“Our kids played hard. I’m proud of our kids,” Grey said. “They battled. We’ve just got to continue to get better and get back to work.”
Nelson added 75 yards on the ground for the Bears, while Jos Erbacher passed for 90. Owens caught five passes for 72 yards.
Mellott ran for 144 yards. He passed for another 102. Moreno finished with 19 carries for 49 yards.
Mellott completed 15 of 33 passes on the windy night. Quinn Sullivan caught four passes. Cory West grabbed three, while Kale McCarthy and Kash Kelly each hauled in two.
The loss closes the high school football career for seniors Kelly, McCarthy, Carl Anderson, Ben Biastoch, Dakota Eggers, Austin Endy, Ethan Hafer, Kyle Harding, Ryan McCarthy, Conner Miranda, Josh Neil, Calvin Snow and Rylan Waananen.
“This senior class, they changed the culture for us,” Grey said. “They did some nice things.”