Both teams got smoked Friday night at Bob Green Field on the Montana Tech campus.
So did the coaches, fans, officials, cheerleaders, band, media and whoever else was on hand watching Butte Central top Belgrade 16-10 in a non-conference Class A high school football season opener.
Forest fires in the West filled the skies with smoke that was settling into the stadium itself and reaching wisps toward the field. The game was nearly moved or postponed because of the conditions before administrations at both schools decided to go ahead and play after receiving approval from local health officials.
The teams looked and played healthy enough — for the first game of the season. Cole Harper caught seven passes, including a TD throw, and Kyle Harrington ran for 129 yards to pace the Butte Central offensive performance.
Butte Central gave up a touchdown set up by a big play then saw its defense take hold and fence the Panthers out of the end zone the rest of the game. The Maroons allowed Belgrade just five first downs in the second half.
The defending Southwestern Conference champions and 2014 state Class A runners-up had to come from behind twice to gain the win. The Maroons took an 8-7 lead on a touchdown and safety that followed the Panthers’ early score. Belgrade’s touchdown was a 3-yard plunge by Hayden Van Winkle and the Maroons answered with a 13-yard pass to Harper from new quarterback Tanner Kump. After failing to convert for two points after the TD, BC got the two points on a safety when sophomore Hunter Hartwick captured Belgrade punter Evan Luhrsen in the end zone after a high snap.
The Panthers went back ahead on a 25-yard field goal by Spencer Gordon on the last play of the third quarter, but were overtaken when Butte Central sophomore fullback Ryan Moodry tunneled into the end zone from 3 yards away. An interception by junior Ryan Ashby set up what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I think our kids battled their tails off,” Don Peoples Jr., kicking off his 27th season as head coach of the Maroons, said. “That’s what I’m proud of.
“Our defense had a nice game. After giving up an early long play and touchdown, they really battened down the hatches.”
Two exciting returns by senior Cal Hollow provided the spark in the second half that ignited the BC team, Peoples said. Hollow took the second-half kickoff on a reverse from Harper 56 yards and went 34 yards with a free kick following the safety. The Maroons were unable to capitalize for scores on either, but the plays helped BC pin the Panthers deep into their own territory.
Butte Central came into the game a little banged up, having lost their starting center and kicker in the past week to injuries and two others during the summer football activities. One, junior running back/linebacker Blake Burton is due back in a couple of weeks. Kump is slowed by a sore ankle and star running back Kyle Harrington went down Friday night with a knee injury late in the game.
“Tanner did some good things,” Peoples said of the junior QB making his first varsity start. “He’s hobbled some with an ankle problem right now and he had some trouble with some snaps in the second half, but I thought he did a lot of good things for us tonight.
“Dylan Shea (sophomore center) did a good job for being thrown into the fire. Kyle Harrington ran hard. We think he has a sprained knee and don’t think it is anything serious. Ryan Moodry came in and blasted one over the goal line for us, so that was good.”
Harper’s seven receptions were all on balls Kump threw and were good for 65 yards. The plan seemed to be to get the athletic 6-foot-1 senior leaper into one-on-one coverage with a Belgrade defender.
“We ran those plays last year,” Harper said. “And we watched some film from last year (before the game). But we also ran some tests early in the game.”
The plays were ones Harper liked.
“I’ve always liked to jump,” he said.
Peoples said not all the film from last year was of much help. Nobody seemed to be sure who would be at quarterback for Belgrade and it turned out that the Panthers tried three players in the role. They — Tanner Campbell, Zack Spady and Derek Marks — all did pretty well.
“I thought Belgrade was a good team, and played well tonight,” Peoples said. “We didn’t know what they were going to run and they had some funky formations. And they came out with a different defensive front what we expected.”
Each team forced three turnovers. The Panthers got interceptions from Will Blewett and Alex Chidester, and a fumble recovery by Campbell. Hollow recovered a fumble for Butte Central and Ashby and Nate McGree picked off passes. The Chidester interception was in the end zone and McGree’s stopped a Panther drive at the Maroons’ 13-yard line with 38 seconds left to play.
Belgrade was the Central A Conference champion last year and Friday’s BC win snapped a three-game winning streak the Panthers held in the series.
Butte Central will be tested the road next weekend with a non-conference game at Browning on Friday night. Browning is scheduled to play Polson on the Montana Tech Bob Green Field Saturday at 6 p.m., the game having been moved to The Mining City because of the smokier skies from the fires in the western and northern parts of the state.
Belgrade 7 0 3 0 — 10
Butte Central 0 6 2 8 — 16
BEL — Hayden Van Winkle 3 run (Spencer Gordon kick), 8:58. Drive — 57 yards, 7 plays. Key play — Alex Chidester 42 pass from Tanner Campbell to Butte Central 11-yard line.
BC — Cole Harper 13 pass from Tanner Kump (run failed), 11:20. Drive — 54 yards, 7 plays Key play — Hunter Hartwick tackled Belgrade punter Evan Luhrsen at Butte Central 46-yard line after high snap on fourth down.
BC — Safety, Hartwick tackled Belgrade punter Luhrsen in the end zone, 8:24. Drive — none. Key play — scoring play.
BEL — FG Gordon 25, :00. Drive — 8 yards in 4 plays. Key play — Campbell recovered Butte Central fumble at Butte Central 8-yard line.
BC — Ryan Moodry 3 run (Harper pass from Kump), 8:33. Drive — 8 yards, 2 plays. Key play — Ryan Ashby intercepted Belgrade pass at Butte Central 29-yard line and ran it back to the 8.
First downs 12 17
Rushes-yards 45-63 39-148
Passes 7-17-2 9-18-2
Passing yards 121 71
Return yards 31 21
Punts-avg. 4-39.3 4-37.8
Fumbles-lost 4-1 5-1
Penalties-yards 11-82 4-25
RUSHING — Belgrade, Evan Luhrsen 6-39, Tanner Campbell 18-24, Hayden Van Winkle 15-21, Derek Marks 2-9, Zach Spady 1-0, Team 3-(-31). Butte Central, Kyle Harrington 13-129, Nate McGree 7-38, Ryan Moodry 1-3, Cal Hollow 1-(-1), Tanner Kump 15-(-10), Team 2-(-11).
PASSING — Belgrade, Campbell 5-7-0-72, Marks 2-7-1-49, Spady 0-3-1-0. Butte Central, Kump 9-18-1-71.
RECEIVING — Belgrade, Luhrsen 3-62, Alex Chidester 1-42, Campbell 1-17, Trey Mounts 2-16. Butte Central, Cole Harper 7-68, Sam Johnston 2-3.
TURNOVERS — Belgrade — Fumble recoveries 1 (Campbell), Interceptions 2 (Will Blewett 1, Chidester 1). Butte Central, Fumble recoveries 1 (Cal Hollow), Interceptions 2 (Ryan Ashby, McGree).