By Bruce Sayler
Few teams would seem to know each other better than Butte Central and Hamilton do going into their high school football game on Saturday.
The tilt will be in the first round of the state Class A playoffs and matches two Southwestern A Conference rivals playing each other for the fourth time in about a year. Butte Central beat the Broncs twice last year — once toward the end of the regular season and once in the playoffs. Hamilton defeated the Maroons 48-29 two weeks ago and their fourth meeting over the span will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday on Hamilton’s Hughes Stadium field. (Radio: KOPR 94.1 FM or online)
The winner will go on to play Belgrade next weekend in the state quarterfinals. The loser will end its season.
“We’re getting very familiar with them,” BC head coach Don Peoples Jr. said with a light laugh and looking at his 23rd postseason in 28 years at the Butte Central helm. “They do what they do well. They throw the ball well in a great screen package and they run the ball well with (Manny) Rivera.”
Hamilton’s head coach is one-time Butte High assistant Travis Blome. The clash two weeks ago saw Rivera score three touchdowns, two on runs and the other on a pass play from freshman quarterback Carson Rostad. Rostad completed 13 of 25 passes for 271 yards, including four touchdowns. He also ran for a TD. Rostad’s other scoring passes were two to Tyler Barnes and one to Bridger Bauder. Barnes caught four balls for 102 yards to key the Broncs’ air attack that also saw four catches by Rivera and three by Tyler Chouinard.
“They’ll use a 3-4 or a 4-2 on defense with man coverage and they’ll bring the heat,” Peoples said.
Butte Central’s problems, though, mostly were a result of turnovers in the previous contest. The Maroons lost five fumbles and an interception on a wet field.
“It was a very hard-fought game two weeks ago,” Peoples said. “We played with a lot of energy on defense, but we gave up big plays. Turnovers and big plays hurt us.”
The game saw BC senior running back Blake Burton carry 16 times for 190 yards. He scored a touchdown and fellow senior Nate McGree tallied three, all on runs. McGree gained 62 yards on 20 carries and caught four passes for 67 yards. About half of Burton’s total yardage came on an 85-yard TD sprint.
Senior quarterback Tanner Kump and junior running back Ryan Moodry also had positive running totals, and Kump passed 30 times. However, seven aerials were completed. Sam Johnston snared three throws for 66 yards and Moodry had a catch for 39 yards.
Defensive leaders included Johnston with an interception and junior linebacker Hunter Hartwick with two sacks and a blocked punt.
Peoples acknowledged taking care of the football and thwarting big plays by Hamilton would be keys to this week’s performance.
“We have to finish drives, too,” he said. “We had one drive in that game end in the fourth quarter on the 1-inch line. They’re very good. We had opportunities.”
The preparations have gone well, the coach said.
“We had a good week of practice,” Peoples said. “Our kids are anxious to get another chance at Hamilton. They’re committed to playing hard and playing the best football they can.”
Butte Central has been working talented underclassmen more into their alignments as the season has progressed and the ploy has turned into another benefit.
“One of the positives has been being able to play several kids,” Peoples said. “The more kids we get involved the better depth they provided. We have our best depth of the year ad our young kids are getting experience for the future.”
State statistics, as compiled by Class A historian Brian Reed, show Rostad ranked fourth in the state in passing yards per game at 171.6 and Kump fifth at 165.7. The quarterback ratings, according to the NFL formula Reed applied, shows Rostad ranked third with a 120.2 rating at Kump 10th at 75.6. Rostad leads the state in completion percentage at 63.8 percent (81-for-127) with 17 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Rivera is No. 2 in Class A in rushing with 1,106, 122.9 per game with 11 touchdowns, and Burton ranks third with 809 yards, 89.9 per game, with six TDs. Receiving leaders to play in the game include Chouinard, fifth, 38 for 621 yards, 69.0 yards per game, with eight touchdowns; Johnston, seventh, 42 catches for 600 yards, 66.7 per game, with five touchdowns; and Bauder, eighth, 26 catches for 381 yards, 63.5 per game, with two TDs. Bauder began the season as the starting quarterback until Rostad took over in the midseason.
Johnston was the conference interception champion with six. Moodry ranked second in punting with Bauder eighth. Chouinard was third in punt returns and first in kickoff returns while BC’s leaders were Burton, eighth in punt returns, and Clay Fisher, fifth in kickoff returns.
“We’re excited,” Peoples said. “Our No. 1 goal every year is to be in the playoffs. But, we’re not happy just to be there. We’re going there Saturday to play our best football.”
Butte Central probables on defense are Hartwick and Moodry as the inside linebackers, Burton and senior Jared Schneider as outside linebackers, McGree at safety, senior Ryan Ashby and Johnston at cornerbacks, senior Archie Petritz and junior Dylan Shea at the ends, and junior Zeb Antonioli and senior Ryan Richards at the tackles. Noah McGee and Shea may also see time at linebacker with Fisher and fellow sophomore Cade Holter helping out in the secondary. Senior Paul Thomas LeFleur, freshman Aaron Richards and juniors Shane Callahan, Colter Stillwagon and Saxon Walton support up front.
On offense, expected starters are Johnston and McGree at wideout with senior Chay Bouchee at tight end, Burton and Moodry at running backs, Kump at quarterback, Shea at center, Antonioli and Ryan Richards at the guards, and LaFleur and Petritz at the tackles. Ashby, Holter and junior Allen Boyle spell at receiver, Fisher and McGree also play running back, and Aaron Richards, Callahan and Walton provide relief in the line.
Moodry is the kicker and punter.