Sentinel wins Western AA, Butte High has to wait
By Bill Foley
The Butte High Bulldogs might not have sent shock waves through the state Thursday night.
Defending Class AA state champion Missoula Sentinel doubled up Butte High for a 28-14 Western AA football victory in front of a boisterous crowd of 1,987 at Naranche Stadium. (Stats)
Sentinel extended its winning streak to 18 games, won the Western AA title and secured home field throughout the playoffs with the victory.
Butte High, though, just might have proved to themselves that they are bona fide state title contenders in the Senior Night loss.
“I think we showed some really good things that we can do,” Bulldog coach Arie Grey said. “It’s a gritty group of kids. They really are. They’re gritty, they play hard, they play physical. I’m so proud of our guys.”
Sentinel (8-0 overall and 6-0 in conference) secured a first-round bye in the Class AA playoffs. Butte High (6-3, 5-2) can do the same Friday if Helena High beats Helena Capital at Vigilante Stadium.
A Capital win would make Butte High the No. 3 seed, and the Bulldogs would host a playoff game at Naranche next Friday.
Had the Bulldogs not gotten a few bad breaks, however, they just might be celebrating their second Western AA title in three years.
Sentinel forced a Bulldog fumble, tipped a pass and then picked it off and blocked a field goal in the first all.
“We kind of hurt ourselves at times, and that happens,” Grey said. “You’ve got to overcome those things.”
After forcing the Bulldogs three and out to open the game, the Spartans marched 62-yards for a touchdown on their opening possession.
Three plays after Zac Crews ran for 43 yards on third and 1, Crews scored on a 3-yard run to give the Spartans the lead for good at 6-0.
Sentinel’s run on the 2-point conversion was no good.
Butte High picked up four first downs on its next possession, but the Bulldogs could not capitalize. A 51-yard field goal attempt by Casey Kautzman missed just wide right. The kick would have tied Kautzman’s school record.
The Bulldogs looked to take the lead late in the second quarter, and Jase Stenson hit Jonas Sherman with a short pass. Sherman battled his way for 7 yards to the Sentinel 5-yard line.
On the next play, however, Crews forced a fumble, and teammate Calvin Pratt recovered at 6-yard line.
“Zac Crews caused a fumble,” Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said of the future Montana Grizzly. “What a warrior he was tonight playing on both sides of the ball.”
Sentinel really made Butte pay for the fumble, driving 94 yards on eight plays for a touchdown.
Crews hit Bryton Lenz, who raced 40-yards for a score. Lenz shooshed the Butte High student section as he ran through the west end zone, and Crews ran in the 2-point conversion for a 14-0 lead with 3:29 left.
Butte High drove down to the Sentinel 30-yard line before halftime, but Chase Williams blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt for yet another missed Bulldog opportunity.
Even though Sentinel took a two-touchdown lead into halftime, Oliver was impressed by the Bulldogs.
“They played extremely hard,” the coach said. “They won the first half physically. In the second half we came out … I wouldn’t say we won it, but it was a little more even on the line of scrimmage.”
Sentinel marched 80 yards on 13 plays on its first possession of the second half. Running back Adam Jones tossed a 5-yard touchdown ass to Charlie Kirgan to cap the drive.
On the play, Crews started to rolled right and pitched the ball to Jones, who rolled left. Jones then pitched the ball over a Bulldog defender for the score. Quentin Schraeder’s extra point made it 21-0.
Sentinel extended the lead to 28-0 on the fourth play of the fourth quarter. Jones scored four 1-yard out to cap a 58-yard drive.
This time, Butte High answered with points.
Stenson hit Cameron Gurnsey over the middle for a 7-yard touchdown, and Kautzman’s kick cut the lead to 28-7 with 7:43 to play.
On the next play from scrimmage, a snap sailed over Crews’ head, and Butte High’s Keegen Muffich recovered on the Sentinel 6-yard line.
Four plays later, Stenson plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out on fourth down.
Another bad snap sent the Spartans back to their 1-yard line and a punt out of the back of the end zone. Butte’s Kenley Leary partially blocked Kirgan’s punt, but the ball rolled to the 31-yard line.
Stenson followed with a long completion, and Naranche erupted and started to dream of a miracle. That great comeback, though, ended on the same play when lineman Jack Gibson forced a fumble that teammate J.J. Dolan recovered.
Like with the first fumble, Grey said it was the result of a Bulldog player trying to do too much.
“We’re just playing hard,” Grey said. “That’s what all of them were doing, just playing hard.”
With that, Sentinel was able to kill the final 3:24 to secure the win.
“We got the yips a little bit with the snaps,” Oliver said, giving Naranche an assist. “We wanted to keep the Butte people in their seats a little longer.”
With that, the coach of the defending champions smiled.
“Man, this is a heck of a place to try to win a ballgame,” he said.
Crews passed for 139 yards and ran for 116 more. Jones ran for 149 yards.
Williams’ nine total tackles led the Sentinel defense. Gibson added eight take downs, and Kirgan got in on two sacks.
“That’s a really good football team,” Grey said of Sentinel. “They play hard, and they play physical.”
Stenson passed for 151 yards against a defense that had given up just six points in its previous four games. He also ran for 20.
Gavin Vetter and Leary each ran for 32 yards, and Gurnsey finished with six catches for 83 yards. The junior now has 60 catches in eight games.
Seniors Cole Worley and Dylan Snyder each caught three passes. Vetter and Sherman caught two, and senior Morgan McClernan caught one.
Senior Cole Stewart, who returned to play after dislocating a shoulder 20 days ago in a loss to Helena Capital, led Butte High with 12 total tackles. Muffich, a fellow senior, got in 10 tackles, while seniors Connor Konda and Luke Anderson got in on eight.
Zach Tierney had seven tackles in the trenches and Snyder made six. Stewart and Wiley Dallaserra were credited with pass break ups.
“I’m so proud of our kids. They played hard,” Grey said. “We get an opportunity to get better and learn from this as we go into the playoffs. Offensively, we were able to do some really good things. Defensively, we got huge stops when we needed to.”
Before the game, the Bulldogs honored their 26 seniors and their parents.
Butte High seniors are, Worley, Snyder, Jakob Nielsen, Stewart, Leary, Braydon Cetraro, McClernan, Holt Downey, Hunter Hotalen, Konda, Vetter, Muffich, Anderson, Max Demarais, Jaric Sparts, Kautaman, Marcus Manson, Rylan Mulcahy, Riley Downey, Jak Mortensen, Kooper Klobucar, Devon Cook, Jon Lerum, Quinn Boyle, Nick Verlanic and Daniel Huerta.
The Bulldogs also honored senior manager Taylor St. Pierre.