I’ll drive the getaway car

Over the last year or so, I’ve heard and read several people complain that the renovation of Naranche Stadium in Uptown Butte wasn’t exactly legal.

It was done underhandedly, they say, and taxpayers didn’t approve the  rebuilding of the storied stadium that stands next to Butte High School.

One person even went so far as to suggest that mastermind J.R. Richardson, the school district’s budget director, will — or at least should — serve prison time for the project.

After I stop laughing, my response has always been this: “So? Have you seen Naranche? It. Is. AWESOME.”

Visiting our buddy J.R. in Deer Lodge is a small price to pay for the best high school football stadium in the world. I don’t care if he got the money by making good use of a ski mask and a handgun.

If he decides to make a run for it, I’ll be his A.C. Cowlings and drive the white Bronco. “My name is Foley. You know who I am, damn it!”

(By the way, I’ve had a very good lawyer tell me J.R. has no reason to fear incarceration or even a fine. Everything, the lawyer says, was completely legal. And awesome. If Butte High just would have invited Butte Central to play there like it should have, no such allegations would have ever been levied.)

If you haven’t been to the stadium named after a local hero, you have one more chance this season. Friday night the Bulldogs play host to Bozeman in the Class AA state championship game.

In case you’re new to town or one of the many ButteSports.com readers from abroad, Naranche Stadium was opened in 1938, when it was called Butte High Stadium. The stadium was later named after former Bulldog and University of Montana great Eso Naranche, who was killed by a sniper in North Africa during World War II.

(By the way, my grandmother Mary D’Arcy was a classmate of Eso Naranche. She says he was a really nice boy.)

The stadium was a house of legends until the grandstands wore out by the end of the 1973 season. For 37 years, the Bulldogs left Naranche for varsity games. The stadium reopened last September, and Butte High has been practically unbeatable at home ever since.

Not to take anything away from the Butte High team, but you have to think that Naranche Stadium gets a big assist in the Bulldogs playing in the title game. No high school team in the state has a home field advantage like that.

Nowhere else is the crowd on top of the field like it is at Naranche. Nowhere else has so many ghosts helping out the home team.

After the semifinal game was moved from Friday to Saturday because of dangerous road conditions (wink, wink), the crowd was only about 65 or 70 percent of what it was the week before for the quarterfinal win over Billings Skyview. Still, you couldn’t hear yourself think when Great Falls Russell’s Josh Horner ran a quarterback keeper out of the shotgun on a the two-point conversion.

(By the way, major kudos to CMR coach Jack Johnson for making a call to go for the win in overtime. That was flat-out ballsy way to end a game for the ages.)

It looked like Horner had the momentum to get in, and the call would pay off for the Rustlers. Then Horner met Billy Robinson, et al. at the goal line. The world stood still for a moment as the crowd waited for the signal. The Butte fans got louder and louder before finally erupting when it realized that the arms of the referee on the goal line weren’t going to raise.

They rushed the field before the referee could change his mind.

It was easily the most exciting live football moment of my lifetime, and I’m still not 100 percent sure that it actually happened. The only thing that could contend was the 1994 Montana win over McNeese State in Missoula. That was the day when Andy Larson — not the singer — booted a long field goal as time expired to send the Grizzlies, who were playing without injured Dave Dickenson, to the semifinals.

The snow was just starting to stick as Griz fans rushed the field and we all hugged strangers as if we were best friends after the improbable victory.

Before the Bulldogs completed their big comeback Saturday, Blake Hempstead of Anaconda turned to John Thatcher and me and said, “You guys are so lucky to be able to watch games here every week.”

He didn’t get an argument. Thanks to a little Naranche magic, we get to do it again this week.

On the field after the game was an emotional mess. I won’t name any names, but a former All-State Butte High center who writes for this website was clearly crying. He wasn’t the only one. Not even close.

As Butte High fans mobbed their heroes, fans hugged friends, family and complete strangers while repeating phrases like “oh my God” and “can you believe it?”

I saw J.R. and you could easily see how much this victory meant to him. I said something like “I don’t believe it,” and I went to shake his hand. Instead, I got a big “brothers don’t shake hands, brothers gotta hug” type of a hug.

I’m sure I’ll get a similar embrace when I visit J.R. in prison.

Of course, they’ll have to catch us first.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who is in the market for a second-hand Ford Bronco, writes a column that appears in ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. twitter.com/Foles74