Naranche Stadium to showcase Montana’s Shrine Game

By Bruce Sayler

Of all the things said and statements made during Tuesday evening interview sessions in the West Team camp, lineman Zach Tierney added one for the close.
“Go West!” the Butte High product soon to be a Montana Tech Oredigger ordered.
Camp was summed. The West Team has been working in Butte, sometimes three sessions a day, to go for a third straight victory over the East Team in Saturday’s 2023 edition of the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
It will kick off at 7 p.m. at Naranche Stadium, a facility itself that has emerged as a star in this week’s preparations.
The game matching Montana’s top high school football talents from the preceding fall high school season raises money for the Shrine Children’s Hospital in Spokane. Its resurgence since Butte took on a larger share of the effort in 2010 has pushed the gifting to more than $1 million and another big number is anticipated, certainly hoped once the counting is all done after Saturday.

West Coach Kyle Mihelish of Capital, talks with Shrine Camp visitors. (Photo by Butte Sports.)

The game will be the 76th in the series and the East has a 41-34 lead In wins. The northwest ticket booth will open at 5 p.m. and costs are $25 for reserved seats, $10 for general admission. Children age 12 and under will be let in free. Another attraction for the kids will be the 10 a.m. parade in Uptown Butte put on by the Shriners.
Tierney’s command was echoed by his teammates from Butte gathered for the interview. Wednesday, the team came together more with an election of captains and the interaction with 9-year-old Shriner hospital patient Gavin Devers from Dillon. The defensive starters, the defensive backups and the offensive backups all failed in their attempt to tackle the boy as he scored the traditional ambassador touchdown. Some laughed, all smiled.
Head coach Kyle Mihelish of Helena Capital said nothing was scripted.
“We just said Gavin is going to get the ball and he is going to score a touchdown,” the coach said. “a couple of the guys lunged and ‘missed’ him and then they all joined in the chase.”
Standout football players tumbled and rolled empty-handed in feigned attempt as a 9-year-old boy battling some physical limits joyfully scored his “touchdown” against some of Montana’s best.
“At that moment, the kids realized this isn’t about them,” Mihelish said about the players and the actual game. “
Mihelish played in the game after his senior year, has assisted in five and is now at the coaching helm for a second time.
“We got a good group of kids (in the selections),” Mihelish said. “They’re the best of the West. All are good kids and come from the same mold. They’re smart, intelligent, cerebral along with being, of course athletic.”
It is a roster to admire. The East brought one, too.
Derek Leary, who guided Lewistown to an undefeated championship season in Class A, heads the East coaching staff.
West captains were picked in a likely close team vote the middle of the week. Quarterback Patrick Duchien of undefeated Class B champion Florence and running back Adam Jones of Class AA power Missoula Sentinel were chosen for the offensive unit while safety J.J. Dolan of Sentinel and lineman Talon Marsh of undefeated Class AA champion Capital were selected on the defense. Marsh is the reigning Montana Gatorade Player of the Year award winner. All four are signed with Montana State.
One of the many relishing at playing for a cheering home crowd at storied football palace Naranche Stadium is Dillon safety Caden Hansen. He has not been on the field yet for a game, but knows of the electrifying atmosphere and said he always enjoyed playing basketball for the Beavers in the Butte Civic Center.
He said he wasn’t so fond of playing against Butte Central in the Maroon Activities Center (MAC), but is now looking forward to finally teaming up with Maroon Kyle Holter in the secondary after several years of playing against him in many sports.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in this game,” Hansen said. “I’ve been looking forward to it since I was a freshman. We have three Dillon kids here and our coach (Zach McRae) is coaching (as an assistant).

West players take a break from game prep at Naranchie Stadium ( Photo by Butte Sports Bruce Sayler.)

“Hanging out with these guys this week has been my favorite part of it so far. Getting to know them, and making a lot new friends this week has been good. We have a bunch of Southwestern A Conference kids. Hamilton has some kids here, (Kellan) Beller (of Stevensville) is here and then Kyle and I have been battling since seventh grade.”
Hansen has family ties to Butte in his family, too, he said, noting former Butte Central star Cal McQueary is an uncle. He said the teachings of former coaches like Terry Thomas, Rick Nordahl and the late Craig Finberg laid the foundation for Dillon’s envied sports success in high school, and that it will continue with a new generation of mentors.
Hansen is headed to Carroll to continue his football career so will likely be making more on-field appearances in both Butte and Dillon in the near future.
Speed might be the main attribute for this West Shrine Team.
“We have good perimeter speed,” Mihelish said. “Our running backs are fast and our receivers have good speed.
“Our secondary can run, too. It can cover and they’ve been communicating very well in the secondary.”
The lines on both sides of the ball have good size and strength, and also have good athleticism.
The short week of practice and the other demands of the week’s schedule have crunched the slate, the coach noted.
“We have had to compartmentalize our day,” he said.
Mihelish said he does not know much about the opponent and expects both head coaches will be surprised time to time in the game by what each might direct on the field, but until 7 o’clock on game day, nobody knows what’s going to happen.
“You can hear about and read about all of it,” he said, “but until 7 o’clock on Saturday, nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
The balance on the West Team seems incredibly even.
“We even have two good quarterbacks,” Mihelish said. “We don’t miss a beat anywhere if we put a kid in to play somewhere.”
Part of the reason, he said, is that so many multisport athletes dot the West roster.
“We always preach to our kids they need to be involved (in sports),” he said, “they need to be three-sport athletes.”
He said 14 players off the recent Capital rosters are committed to college football programs.
Team rosters follow:
Center – Seth Benge, Billings Central, 5-10, 230, and Austin Slate, 6-2, 215, Bozeman High.
Guards – Travis McAlpin, Lewistown, 5-11, 220; Alex Donnelly, Miles City, 6-2, 215; Jaxon Tucker, Billings West, 6-3, 255; Raven Hensley, Great Falls High, 5-10, 265; and Colin Avance, Culbertson, 6-0, 250.
Tackles – Brendan Lockart, Great Falls High, 6-1, 225, and Everett Carr, Bozeman High, 6-5, 280.
Tight end – Luke Smith, Bozeman High, 6-4, 215.
Wide receivers – Matteo Civitarese, Calgary Notre Dame, 6-2, 205; Gus Nunez, Great Falls C.M. Russell, 6-2, 185; Braydon Cline, Big Sandy, 6-3, 205; Royce Robinson, Lewistown, 6-4, 190; and Kody Strutz, Big Sandy, 6-1, 175.
Running backs – A.J. LaFurge, Great Falls C.M. Russell, 5-11, 180; Rafe Longin, Great Falls High, 5-9, 180; and Kade Boyd, Billings Central, 6-0, 180.
Quarterback – Cole Taylor, Great Falls C.M. Russell, 6-2, 210; Jake Casagranda, Bozeman High, 6-3, 205; and Cage Norslien, Lewistown, 6-2, 195.
Tackles – Logan Hughes, Billings Central, 6-4, 215; Wyatt DeVoss, Great Falls High, 6-2, 225; and Anthony Oaks, Great Falls C.M. Russell, 6-4, 240.
Ends – Aidan Martin, Bozeman Gallatin, 6-1, 210; Camden Johnson, Laurel, 6-0, 190; and Hunter Sharbono, Fairview, 6-2, 230.
Inside linebackers – Tyler Schoen, Chinook, 6-0, 190; Jeff Boyce, Lewistown, 6-0, 205; and Asher Feddes, Belgrade, 6-2, 205.
Outside linebackers – Bryce Grebe, Melstone, 6-3, 185; Garrett Metrione, Belt, 6-0 190; and Chris Garcia, Billings West, 6-1, 210.
Cornerbacks – Avery Allen, Bozeman High, 5-8, 165; Evan Cherry, Bozeman Gallatin, 6-1, 180; Matthew Golik, Lewistown, 6-4, 195; and Zander Dean, Sidney, 5-11, 170.
Safeties – Tanner Macy, Billings Senior, 5-11, 175; Connor Hash, Shepherd, 5-10, 165; Travis Hadley, Billings Central, 6-0, 170; and Eli Groshelle, Great Falls C.M. Russell, 6-3, 175.
Athlete – Drew Humphrey, Billings West, 6-0, 165.
Head coach – Derek Lear, Lewistown.
Assistant coaches – Matt Ventresca, Lewistown; Hunter Chandler, Bozeman Gallatin; Darold DeBolt, Havre; Matt Triplett, Belt; and Jake Eldridge, Havre.
Center – Jesse Hughes, Dillon, 6-1, 245, and Leo Scafani, Whitehall, 5-10, 220.
Guards – Derrick Saltzman, Hamilton, 6-1, 210; Zach Tierney, Butte High, 6-3, 270; and Kai Nash, Whitefish, 6-2, 220.
Tackles – Shannen O’Brien, Helena High, 6-3, 260; Austin Buehler, Helena Capital, 6-5, 250; and Jonathan Luhmann, Florence, 6-4, 270.
Tight end – Jace Stenson, Butte High, 6-3, 200; Hayden Opitz, Helena Capital, 6-3, 220; and Dylan Christman, Helena High, 6-6, 260.
Wide receivers – Willem Arseneau, Calgary Ernest Manning, 6-0, 180; Cameron Gurnsey, Butte High, 6-0, 180; Eli Nourse, Dillon, 5-10, 170; Connor Michaud, Frenchtown, 6-6, 195; Eli Taylor, Hamilton, 5-9, 150; and Bryce Umphrey, St. Ignatius, 5-9, 165.
Running backs – Adam Jones, Missoula Sentinel, 6-1, 190, and Tom Carter, Helena Capital, 6-0, 185.
Quarterback – Jarrett Wilson, Polson, 5-11, 185, and Patrick Duchien, Florence, 6-2, 200.
Linemen – Talon Marsh, Helena Capital, 6-1, 240; Case Kruse, Manhattan, 6-4, 215; and Reid Johnson, Twin Bridges, 6-3, 220.
Ends – Cameron Shaw, Kalispell Glacier, 6-3, 190; Colten Rice, Florence, 6-1, 195; and Dominic Umile, Missoula Sentinel, 6-4, 230.
Inside linebackers – Kellan Beller, Stevensville, 6-2, 220; Cyril Stevenson, Libby, 6-2, 210; and Ridger Jones, Townsend, 6-1, 185.
Outside linebackers – Liam O’Connell, Hamilton, 6-0, 190; Canyon Sargent, St. Ignatius, 5-11, 180; and Dylan Root, Boulder, 6-1, 185.
Cornerbacks – Fynn Ridgeway, Whitefish, 6-0, 205; Kyle Holter, Butte Central 6-0, 175; Elijah Ratliff, Thompson Falls, 6-2, 180; and Isak Epperly, Bigfork, 6-3, 175.
Safeties – Caden Hansen, Dillon, 6-3, 180; J.J. Dolan, Missoula Sentinel, 6-0, 175; Nick Michelotti, Helena Capital, 6-4, 195; and Colter Petre, Helena High, 6-2, 180.
Head coach – Kyle Mihelish, Helena Capital.
Assistant coaches – Matt Reyant, Helena Capital; Zach McRae, Dillon; Pat Duchien, Florence; Todd Hughes, Missoula Loyola; and Carson Oakland, St. Ignatius.