Relaxed Dogs head to Billings with nothing to lose

Relaxed Dogs head to Billings with nothing to lose

By Bill Foley

If there is ever a time when a team is “playing with house money,” as they say, it is the Butte High Bulldogs.

Not many in the state are giving the Bulldogs much of a chance when they take on Billings West in a Class AA playoff game at Daylis Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online or on the KBOW app)

The 9-1 Golden Bears are the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and winners of eight straight. Their lone loss came at No. 1 Bozeman, and it is a game West felt it should have won.

During their winning streak, the Bears beat the 5-5 Bulldogs 42-6 on Wendy’s Field.

“There’s not a lot of people outside of us who really feel like we can go down and compete with them,” Bulldog coach Area Grey said Thursday. “That’s OK. The only thing that matters is the 15- to 18-year-old kids who hop on that bus and drive down to Billings.”

Grey said his Bulldogs are hitting the road with nothing to lose.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity,” Grey said. “The energy has been awesome. The focus level has been great. They’re relaxed and ready to go have fun.”

The Bulldogs are also expecting to enter the fourth quarter with a chance to win. They know they are a different team than the one that turned the ball over six times in the loss to the Bears.

For one thing, Butte High’s running game has taken off since the last time the saw the Bears..

Senior running back Josh Neil was lost for the season at practice the week following the loss to West.

Even with the devastating loss, the Bulldog running game took a turn for the better, even though Neill had just ran for 104 yards in the loss at West. It has been a different kind of running game than the one with the speedy Neil.

With linemen Konnor McClafferty, Lucas Kingston, Ryan McCarthy, Ty Raiha and Kyle Harding leading the way, junior running back Kameron Moreno, who relies more on his vision and power, has ran for 552 of his 621 yards in the last four weeks.

Throw in some big runs and big strikes from junior quarterback Tommy Mellott, and the Bulldogs have been taking care of the ball, killing time off the clock and scoring points.

After falling at Billings Senior a week after the West loss, the Bulldogs ran off three straight wins, beating Great Falls High and Billings Skyview at home before thumping Missoula Big Sky on the road last week.

“We’re a much different team today than we were when we went down there and played,” Grey said. “The kids have really bought into the mantra that we’re going to run the ball, be a physical running football team, and stop the run. We’ve got to be a physical, downhill running football team, and we have to be able to stop the run.”

The Bears have also appeared to have gotten better. They closed the regular season with a 42-0 win over Billings Senior last Friday.

Without question, the key to stopping the Bears is somehow slowing down 5-foot-11, 176-pound junior running back DeMarcus Carr.

Carr is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 159.6 yards per game. He has ran for at least 100 yards in all 10 games, and he racked up 1,596 yards and 21 touchdowns. Carr ran for 189 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs.

Junior quarterback Josh Erbacher pass passed for 24 touchdowns and just fur interceptions on the season.

Junior receiver Jesse Owens has caught 56 passes for 11 touchdowns.

“They are explosive on offense,” Grey said. “Defensively, they are physical and they try to get in your face and take things away.”

Butte High also has the potential for a quick-strike offense.

Senior receiver Kash Kelly has put together his two best games of the season the past two weeks. Along with seniors Kale McCarthy and Conner Miranda and juniors Tucker Winston, Cory West, Quinn Sullivan and Peyton Hettick, Mellott has a lot of weapons at his disposal.

Butte High’s defense has also been stout during the Bulldogs’ late-season run.

In fact, Grey credits facing the Bulldog defense in practice to helping to get the running game going.

“We’ve become a different team,” Grey said. “Both fronts have a done a great job for us. I think one of the reasons we’re running the ball so effectively is because out defensive front is stopping the run better. So we’ve had some physical practices.”

Seniors Austin Endy and Rylan Waananen, juniors Kingston and McCafferty and sophomore Aidan Lee lead the way up front on defense.

Senior linebacker Carl Anderson leads the team with 78 tackles. Junior Scout Allen and senior Dakota Eggers follow with 64 and 63. Sullivan has been an emerging force at outside linebacker the last month, too.

In all, the Bulldogs use about 16 or 17 players on defense each week.

“The bottom line is we’re blocking, tackling and playing fast,” Grey said.

Grey seems to like the fact that most people around the state aren’t giving his team much of a chance. He also cautioned that stranger things have happened than a No. 2 seed falling in the first round.

“We had a 16 seed win in the NCAA Tournament,” Grey said. “When I was at (Kalispell) Flathead, we were an 8 seed and we beat a 1. It’s possible. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody.”

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