By Bruce Sayler
The Butte Central seniors got to go out with a win.
They and their underclassman teammates romped to a 41-14 Western A Conference high school football win over Stevensville Friday night at Bob Green Field on the Montana Tech campus. (Stats)
The celebration lingered on the field, but likely wouldn’t last all-too-long. The Maroons missed making the state Class A playoffs due to Libby beating Corvallis 14-0 in a game that was scoreless through three quarters. Libby held the edge over BC for the last playoff spot from the West.
Plus, as senior lineman noted in the postgame, there are ACT tests to be taken Saturday morning.
Eyston Lakkala ran for three touchdowns and Butte Central forced five turnovers – three interceptions and two fumbles – in gaining the win.
“I’m really, really proud of our kids,” Don Peoples Jr., finishing his 33rd season as the Maroons’ head coach, said. “They gave a great effort all year. They had their ups and downs. But, they improved and improved and played their best game tonight.
“I’m really proud of our five seniors (Drew Badovinac, Lakkala, Hart, Joseph Sehulster and Gage Guldseth) . I can’t thank them enough for their careers and leadership. We have so much returning next year, we have great reason to be excited.”
The game could not have started any better. BC junior Jack Keeley intercepted a Stevensville pass on the first play from scrimmage and ran it in 25 yards for a touchdown. It was a 6-0 Butte Central lead 33 seconds into the contest.
Then, the Yellowjackets fumbled on the ensuing kickoff runback. Maroon sophomore Bryce Keane striped the returner of the ball and junior Rye Doherty recovered it on the Stevi 19-yard line. After a 5-yard penalty against Stevensville, Lakkala took the ball to the 1-yard line on a crash-and-dash carry. He bulled into the end zone on the next play. Ethan Andersch’s extra-point kick made it a 14-0 advantage for BC with 10:40 left in the first quarter.
Butte Central tacked on one more touchdown before the next quarter when Lakkala stampeded 52 yards on a scoring run. Stevensville had driven to the Maroons’ 4-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. Lakkala gained 9 yards on first down, then BC was hit for a 5-yard penatly. Junior quarterback Luke Garrison found classmate Kyle Holter for a 40-yard pass before Lakkala broke loose and got away./
Stevensville stiffened its defense in the second quarter and the only scoring was a 1-yard plunge by junior running back Konnor Pochervina. Lakkala and Pochervina led a strong running game for Butte Central, combining for 176 yards rushing – 89 by Lakkala and 87 by Pochervina.
“It was nice to be at full strength, tonight,” Peoples said, in reference to the many injuries and sickness that have plagued the team this fall. “You could see the impact that kids like (Eric) Loos and Dougie (Peoples) had. That’s another great reason to be optimistic about next year.”
Both missed half the season with injuries. Loos was a force on the defensive line, and also had three receptions on offense. Dougie Peoples, the coach’s nephew, also caught three passes, including a 3-yard TD throw from Garrison in the fourth quarter.
Badovinac and Doherty came up with two turnovers apiece in helping spark the defense, which has been a strength all season. Badovinac’s fumble recovery set up one Butte Central TD and his interception in the end zone ruined a Yellowjacket scoring opportunity. Dohety’s recovery led to his team’s second TD, and his interception at the goal line foiled another Stevi scoring try.
Stevensville finally did get on the scoreboard in the third quarter when quarterback Sahkaia Wehr found receiver Gus Turner wide open in the middle of the field 15 yards behind the BC secondary. The connection worked for a 73-yard TD play. The Maroons’ lead was then 34-6 after they had built a 27-0 halftime command.
Lakkala’s 4-yard TD run eight plays after the Badovinac recovery had increased the BC margin to 34-0, a point short of the running clock rule under the 35-point difference directive.
The Maroons reached the margin on the first play of the fourth quarter when Garrison threw into the end zone to Peoples on a short pass. It made the gap 41-6, but Stevi closed it by a touchdown again when Wehr scampered for a 13-yard scoring run with not quite 6 minutes left to play.
Hart sort of reached a goal five plays before the game ended when the lineman, a third-year starter, caught the snap on a fake punt play and tried to run for a first down.
“That was the goal for me this season (to play running back),” the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder, deadpanned. “But, it didn’t work out.”
Hart, who also plays basketball and is an infielder for the Butte Miners American Legion baseball team, having played shortstop this past summer, said he felt good about the season ending with a win.
“It was a great way to finish the season,” he said. “We wanted it and it was great to see.”
He said it was going to be a quiet Friday for him, otherwise.
“No celebrating,” Hart said. “I have to study. I have to take ACTs in the morning.”
Coach Peoples made sure to acknowledge the members of his mostly volunteer staff.
“I’m really proud of our coaches,” he said. “I’m thankful for how hard they worked. We all asked of the kids for them to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they did that they could.
“I think our kids did that this year.”
The BC team finished the season with a 3-5 record. It needed Corvallis to beat Libby in order to reach the playoffs.