As it turns out, pitting the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense makes for a pretty good show.
More than 4,000 high school football fans flooded Naranche Stadium Friday, as No. 5 Butte High handed No. 4 Bozeman its second straight loss with a 28-19 decision. The Bulldogs brought in the top scoring offense in the Class AA ranks, while the Hawks came in with the stingiest defense in the state.
The Bulldogs improved to 5-1 with the win, as Dallas Cook threw for three touchdowns – two to Zach Bunney and another to Dalton Daum. However, it was the Butte High defense that raised eyebrows and turned heads.
“How about that defense,” Butte High head coach Arie Grey asked. “They competed. They got off the field when they needed to and they gave us some short fields. Coach Arntson and the defensive staff did a phenomenal job getting those guys ready to roll.”
The Bulldog defense also got a big lift from the home crowd and venue, as noise created by the masses made life difficult for the visiting offense and played a part in at least half of Bozeman’s 10 penalties.
“This place is unbelievable,” Bozeman head coach Troy Purcell said after the game. “There were a lot of false starts where we couldn’t hear it. It’s hard to get motion going because you can’t hear it. You can’t get the play in because you can’t hear it. It was definitely a factor in the game. It was intense.”
Butte defensive lineman Billy Robinson paced the Bulldogs with seven tackles, including the final sack of the night, while fellow down lineman Anthony Moritz had six. Connor Lee was in on a pair of sacks for nine yards loss, while Tyler Earles chased down Bozeman quarterback Connor Linebarger for a 14-yard loss.
“They played with great passion and I’m especially proud of those D guys,” Grey said.
For better or worse, special teams played a big part in the game. Butte High’s first points came at the end of Bozeman’s first drive when the Hawks’ punt was blocked by Bryce Armstrong and recovered in the emd zone by Jason Vesco.
Butte also saw the ball bounce the other way on special teams when a third quarter when a 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked and returned 87 yards for a touchdown by Bozeman’s Chris Johnson.
“Special teams were a real big factor in the game, on both sides,” Purcell observed.
The Hawks also blocked a punt and had some good efforts on kickoff returns.
“We’ve got to shore up some things on special teams and get better,” Grey said. “We tell the special teams kids that they only get one play. They don’t get another down so they need to be sure they’re sound and do a good job.”
Butte added to its lead on the first play of the second quarter, when Bunney hauled in a short pass from Cook, then turned on the afterburners to outrun the defenders on the 82-yard touchdown play.
Bozeman took advantage of a pass interference call that extended the Hawks’ next drive, where Riley Martello punched the ball in from seven yards out for the visitors’ first points. Bozeman’s defense stepped up on Butte’s following possession, as end Will Dissly jumped on a Cook pass and returned the interception 73 yards to the Butte 7, where Linebarger scored on an option keep. The PAT kick sailed wide left, however, and Butte hung onto a 14-13 lead.
The Hawks took their only lead of the game in the third quarter on the returned field goal block, but again, Butte’s special teams unit stepped up and stopped Linebarger’s two-point PAT run short of the goal line.
“We did some things where we could have gone in the tank, and we didn’t,” Grey said. “We handled it and kept battling.”
Butte took the lead back at the end of its next 71-yard drive. Looking at fourth-and-7 on Bozeman’s 36, Cook found a wide-open Bunney in the flat and connected with him for Bunney’s 11th touchdown of the season.
“That was just a great play call,” Cook said, deflecting credit to Bulldog offensive coordinator Mike Schmidt. “Actually, I thought I overthrew him on that one.”
The first play of the fourth quarter saw Cook pass to Jon Allen for a 12-yard gain, while the second play was a Cook pass to Dalton Daum, who not only made a nice catch, but also put the moves on two different defensive backs, eluding the tackles and coming in for a 27-yard scoring reception.
Another special teams gaffe extended Bozeman’s next drive, but the Butte defense got a lift from Lee’s second sack and took the ball back on downs as time ticked away in the fourth quarter.
Butte High’s next time-eating possession got a boost when Cook made a miraculous off-handed pass to Bunney while he was surrounded and nearly sacked by a host of Bozeman defenders. Cook all but ended Bozeman’s chances when he nailed a pooch punt into “coffin corner” to give Bozeman the ball on its own 3 yard line with just over a minute to play.
“We practice that punt every Monday,” Cook said, though he passed the play off as lucky.
After the other action in Class AA football Friday, Butte is left as one of three 5-1 teams, joined by No. 3 Helena High and No. 2 Great Falls Russell. Helena posted an easy 50-6 win over Great Falls High (1-5), while the Rustlers had a much more difficult time with Skyview (2-4), scoring with five minutes left in the game to claim a 34-27 win.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the night came at Vigilante Stadium in Helena, where top-ranked Helena Capital (4-2) was thumped by Billings West (3-3) 41-7 in a rematch of last year’s state title game.
Next weekend’s action has Butte playing on the road at Missoula Big Sky, while the big matchup of the week has Helena High playing at CMR.
Bozeman 0 13 6 0 – 19
Butte 7 7 7 7 – 28
Butte – Jason Vesco recovers blocked punt in end zone (Jake Dennehy kick), 7:37
Butte – Zach Bunney 82 pass from Dallas Cook (Dennehy kick), 11:45
Bozeman – Riley Martello 7 run (Hunter Andriolo kick), 6:08
Bozeman – Connor Linebarger 7 run (kick failed), 4:01.
Bozeman – Chris Johnson 87 blocked kick return (run failed), 5:04
Butte – Bunney 36 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick), 2:38
Butte – Dalton Daum 27 pass from Cook (Dennehy kick), 11:36
First Downs 9 23
Rushes-yards 40-129 31-132
Passing yards 70 324
Comp-att-int 24-41-1 5-9-0
Total yards 199 456
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-50 10-61
RUSHING – Bozeman: Connor Linebarger 23-99, Hunter Gappmayer 15-25, Riley Martello 1-7, Andre Stubbs 1 (-2); Butte: Jake Eisenbarth 10-43, Dallas Cook 8-42, Zach Bunney 11-39, Dalton Daum 1-5, Bo Taylor 1-3.
PASSING – Bozeman: Connor Linebarger 5-9-0 70; Butte: Dallas Cook 24-41-1 324.
RECEIVING – Bozeman: Will Dissly 3-23, Kalvin Cook 2-47; Butte: Dalton Daum 8-98, Bryce Armstrong 6-21, Zach Bunney 4-149, Tyler Earles 4-34, Jon Allen 2-22.