By Bill Foley
MISSOULA — Was that Dougie Peoples, or was that Superman?
That seemed to be the question as a large group of Butte Central fans hugged each other Saturday night, trying to digest what they had just watched with their own eyes.
Dougie Peoples was not wearing a cape, but he was certainly out of this world.
The Butte Central junior hit a 3-pointer from 27 feet as time expired to give Butte Central a 61-58 win over Lewistown in the Class A State championship game at Dahlberg Arena. (Stats)
“He was unbelievable,” Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly said, still feeling the shock outside the BC locker room. “I feel like that whole performance was just super human. He was amazing.”
The game-winning bucket gave Peoples 37 points on the night. It also gave the Maroons their second State title in three years.
It was, however, BC’s first championship game win since the Maroons beat Stevensville in 1992 in Billings.
“It means everything to us,” Peoples said. “It means everything to Butte, I hope. It is just an incredible feeling.”
The win closed the book on BC’s 26-1 championship season. It was easily the best record in team history.
Dougie’s shot, courtesy Jeff Williams. pic.twitter.com/InFbKOwCSQ
— ButteSports (@ButteSports) March 13, 2022
For much of the night, though, it looked as if the Golden Eagles, who took a 22-1 record into the title tilt, were the team of destiny.
Junior Kyle Holter, who scored 19 points while being tasked with guarding Lewistown star Fischer Brown, fouled out of the game with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game.
The fifth foul came on a three-point play by Brown, who grabbed a rebound while heading to the bucket. That triple gave Lewistown a 54-52 lead and the momentum.
“Kyle is one of our best players, and when he fouled out that was a big blow,” Peoples said. “But Jack (Keeley) came in and he stepped up and guarded their best player the last 3 minutes of the game.”
Holter praised the sophomore, too.
“Jack Keeley, he did what he had to do,” Holter said. “He did his job. He did it perfectly.”
The Maroons had the Man of Steel on their side, too.
Peoples scored 13 of his points in BC’s 22-point fourth quarter. When his 3-point shots didn’t fall, Peoples drove to the hoop. At one point, he scored 10 straight BC points.
Peoples drove and hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to 54-53.
Royce Robinson, who scored 26 points for the Eagles, hit two free throws to extend the lead before Peoples fed classmate Eric Loos with a beautiful pass for an easy bucket. That cut the lead to 56-55 with 2:39 on the clock.
Then it came down to defense, rebounding and nerve. A whole lot of nerve.
After a Peoples miss, the Eagles had the ball and the lead when the Eagles called a time out with 54.3 seconds left.
Then Peoples made what might have really been the play of the game. He stole the ball, made a layup and turned a three-point play to put the Maroons up 58-56 with 45.9 seconds left.
Lewistown had its clutch performers, too, and Brown, who finished with 14 points, scored on a put back with 20 seconds left, knotting the game at 58.
The mistake was giving Peoples too much time.
He slowly dribbled the ball down court. Just as he saw the double team coming his way, he launched a legend.
It hit nothing but net, and the Maroons celebrated one of their greatest wins in one of the greatest games.
“I was right in the corner,” senior Drew Badovinac said. “I saw him shoot it, and I knew it was going in. The second he shot it; I knew it.”
Peoples, who pretty much grew up in the Maroon Activities Center, said the shot was a dream come true. In his mind, he probably made that shot thousands of times while shooting alone in the MAC.
“I got the ball and I was dribbling down court and there was like 20 seconds left,” Peoples explained. “I was like, ‘I’m going to take the last-second shot.’ In my head I was like, ‘This is what you dream of as a kid. This is what you do.’
“I just put the ball up, and when it went in, I just started crying. Then me and Brodie gave each other a hug. It was just unbelievable.”
Holter had a good view of the shot from the bench.
“I believed in Dougie when he took the shot,” Holter said.
So, he knew his teammate was going to come through?
“Of course,” Holter said. “I’ve been in practice enough with him.”
Lewistown led most of the game. The Eagles led 15-13 after the first quarter, and Lewistown led by as many as six points before BC rallied to take a 24-23 lead.
Central led 26-25 at the half, but Lewistown took it back in the third, holding advantages of 35-31 and 40-35 before taking a 42-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Central built a 50-46 lead during Peoples’ run midway through the fourth.
Luke Clinton hit a two before Brown hit a baseline 3-pointer to put Lewistown back up 51-50.
Peoples drove for a 52-51 edge before Brown turned the three-point play and Holter was forced to the bench.
Kelly, who was a junior when the Maroons won in 1992, has his second championship as head coach of his alma mater. This is the first one that BC did not have to share.
In 2020, Central and Hardin were declared co-champions after the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
Kelly’s team lost heartbreakers in title games in 2005 and 2008.
“The way it all unfolded, it’s just taking some time to sink in,” Kelly said. “Thank God for Dougie Peoples. It feels like the good Lord had a plan for us and it worked out.
“We played great basketball for 26 out of 27 games and down the stretch. I’ve been on the losing end of so many games like that. Sometimes it’s a break here or a call there. The good Lord was looking out for us tonight.”
While Peoples’ performance is one for the ages, Kelly pointed out the great play of his entire team.
Badovinac is a defensive stalwart. Loos, who transferred from Butte High a little more than a year ago, is a beast inside. Holter has a motor that doesn’t stop. Senior Bryson Sestrich has hit tons of huge shots.
Senior Joseph Sehulster is called the “garbage man” for doing the dirty work off the bench. Sophomore Zane Moody puts in some big minutes off the bench.
Seniors Gage Guldseth and George Riojas and junior Riley Gelling also played this season for the Maroons.
“You don’t get to this point without a collective effort,” Kelly said. “Kyle Holter, throughout the whole season and in this game made play after play. And then Eric, just the gutsiness and toughness.
“We blocked out tremendously that team boards hard. That’s a hard team to guard. It takes all five guys out there. It’s a team championship.”
After the 56 combined points from Peoples and Holter, Loos was the only other Maroon to score in the title game. He also pulled down nine rebounds. Holter and Peoples had six apiece.
Sestrich dished three assists, and Keeley handed out two.
“Everyone did their part,” Badovinac said. “We played good defense, and big-time players make big-time plays like Dougie did.”
With one season left at BC, Peoples already has 1,054 points on his career. He did not score a varsity point as a freshman either.
During the first quarter of the championship game, Peoples became the third Butte high school player to join the 600-point club. He finished the season with 629 points, which ranks third all time in the Mining City behind only classmate Brooke Badovinac and Butte Sports Hall of Famer Joe Antonietti.
“He deserves every second of it,” Holter said of Peoples. “He’s been in the gym since he could pick up a basketball. He deserves every second of that.”
Unlike in 2020, the Maroons will not have to wait for their championship firetruck parade. The school, though, has not announced when that will be.
The Butte Central faithful were busy celebrating a championship while trying to believe what they had just witnessed with their own eyes.
“This is amazing,” Holter said. “Just seeing everybody here, all of Butte. This is the greatest thing I ever experienced. It’s awesome.”
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