When I picked up my son from school on Friday I said to him, “I have some bad news, bud.”
Derek, clad in purple with his oversized No. 2 Bulldogs jersey said, “I already know dad, Mr. Gallagher told us.”
Derek and I have attended all but a few of the games that the Butte High Bulldogs have played at their renovated home.
It’s become one of “our things,” one of the many I do with my best friend.
We generally sit in the same spot every game, in the front row, “so the players can hear him.”
He screams as loud as his little six year-old voice will let him, cheering for his favorite Bulldogs, Bryce Armstrong, Dalton Daum and Zach Bunney, none of whom he knows personally.
And under no circumstances do we leave early.
The Class AA semi-finals were no different.
Online the “Rustler Nation” has done nothing but disrespect our city, our fans and more importantly our Bulldogs. Calling the Bulldogs 41-20 week one win over CMR, among other things, “a fluke.”
Couple that with the fact that the Rustlers were unable to make the trip to The Mining City — a controversial decision — for the game scheduled for Friday night postponing it until Saturday, and you have a little extra tension added to this heavyweight fight.
Derek and I bundled up for the first Bulldog home game on a Saturday afternoon in recent memory and headed up to Naranche Stadium at 11 a.m. — gotta grab those first row seats.
Once the gates opened and we saved our seats, we mingled around, hung out in the press box and had about three gallons of hot chocolate.
Anything we could do to keep warm.
As the visually thinner crowd filled Naranche, Derek and I made our way to our seats in time to see the Dogs blast through the banner to the tune of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” as they do for every home game.
From the opening kickoff the Rustlers did exactly what was expected, they ran the ball — a lot. Chewing up yardage and time, keeping Dallas Cook and the explosive Butte High offense off the field.
CMR senior tailback Hunter Thomsen punched the ball in to give The Rustlers a 6-0 lead that lasted all of three plays before Cook found a wide-open Armstrong for a 39-yard touchdown strike.
And that’s when the wheels fell off. Plagued by mistakes and miscommunication, the Dogs took to the locker room down 28-14 at halftime.
CMR controlled the clock, the tempo and for the most part the frozen Naranche crowd.
The third quarter was all about defense, the Rustlers held up their end and the Bulldogs followed suit.
Late in the third quarter, with the score 30-14 and the Rustlers threatening inside the Bulldog five yard-line, I was a little concerned for my son’s well being and his frozen limbs. I turned to him and said, “If you want to leave we can. It’s up to you, bud.”
He looked at me and said, “Dad, a touchdown and a two-point conversion and they are right back in this.”
Man, I love that kid.
Two plays later, Rustler quarterback Josh Horner fumbled the exchange and the Dogs recovered.
After punting and causing yet another CMR fumble inside the ten yard-line, it was time for Dallas Cook to go to work.
Using his legs, and a wide-open middle of the field Cook led the comeback behind a determined offensive line that fired off the ball on every snap.
With 8 minutes, 30 seconds left on the clock, Cook burst up the middle for a one-yard touchdown run and capped it off with a two-point conversion pass to tight end Tyler Earles.
In my opinion the most important play of the game.
The Naranche crowd lived up to its reputation. When CMR had the ball you couldn’t hear yourself think. And when Cook was under center you could hear a pin drop.
On the ensuing drive the usually sure handed Thomsen — the only person in Silver Bow County not wearing sleeves — fumbled for the second time when Andre Vialpando ripped the ball out of his hands and held him up long enough for a purple jersey to fall on it.
If Naranche Stadium had a roof on it, that was the point that it would have blown off.
The stage was set. The Dogs and their cool-as-can-be quarterback were 76-yards and a two-point conversion away from tying the game.
Cook methodically led his team down the field much to the delight of the home town fans, not one of which doubted that the Bulldogs would score.
And that they did, on Cook’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:09 left to make the score 28-30.
Behind his offensive line, legs churning and pushing No. 16 fell into the end zone on a successful two-point conversion.
Crowd at a fever pitch.
Momentum squarely in the Bulldogs favor.
CMR was in trouble.
The Dogs defense stood tall on the final Rustlers’ drive of regulation, as it had the entire second half.
Fittingly, the two Class AA powerhouses who battled for supremacy all year needed overtime to earn the right to play for the state championship.
Of course it would come to this. It was the tale of two cities, one starving for a winner, and one that doesn’t go more than a few years without one.
On the first snap of the extra period Cook once again ran up the middle, and past every white jersey on the field for a touchdown. The oh-so-important PAT booted through by Jake Dennehy gave the Dogs a 37-30 advantage.
After the Rustlers scored on a third-down pass from Horner to Thomsen to make it 37-36 one coach sent out the special teams unit to tie the game, while another called them back.
They were going for two.
The 2012 Bulldogs will always be remembered for their electric offense. And for good reason, they set numerous records this year.
But it was their defense that gave them the chance to win this game.
A defense that has been questioned time after time throughout the season.
A defense that now stood between a heartbreaking loss, and the chance to play for the state title.
The crowd, loud as it was all day stood on their feet as Horner took the snap and ran off tackle — where he met Billy Robinson.
Robinson held up the strong CMR quarterback long enough for his “Band of Brothers” to get there. One white helmet after another converged on the ball as they stopped him short of the goal line.
Once the official signaled “no good,” the Butte High fans, students and parents flooded the field with tears streaking down their red faces to congratulate their team, peers and sons.
Games like this usually have a name affixed to them, I haven’t heard one yet but I’m simply going to call it, “the most exciting football game I ever attended.”
It was everything I love about sports all wrapped up in one giant purple and white package.
In no other aspect of life can you experience so many emotional highs and lows in the span of three hours.
Butte is a football town, and this community has been waiting a long time for this. Those kids have the opportunity to finally put 1991 in the past.
But regardless of the outcome of Friday’s Class AA championship game against Bozeman, I hope those kids know that they have made an impact on the state of Montana, the little mining town they call home and a whole new generation of future Bulldogs.
Especially the one in the oversized No. 2 jersey.