‘Speed Thrills’ might be theme of 69th Shrine Game

Despite the athleticism spicing the offensive slots on both rosters, points might be at a premium because of the teams’ sturdy defenses in Saturday’s 69th annual Montana East-West Shrine Game.
The all-star football game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls and broadcasts are planned on Montana CW cable outlets (channel 18 in most areas) and radio stations, including KBOW in Butte.
The teams are made up of senior stars from last fall’s Montana high school football campaigns. It is the oldest such series in the nation and the East leads it by a 37-31 count, but has not won since 2012. The West was a 34-10 victor last year in Laurel and is looking to extend a win streak to three games.
The contest raises money for the Shrine Children’s Hospital is Spokane and has brought the facility more than $1 million since the 1947 inaugural game. More than $200,000 has been the past two years.
Head coaches this year are Don Peoples Jr. of the West and Gary Lowry of the East. Peoples, the veteran head coach of Butte Central, is helming the squad for the third time (1990 and 1992) and has been an assistant three times. This year’s set will see him coaching his son, Danny, who will be a quarterback and kicker/punter on the West.
Lowry, of C.M. Russell in Great Falls, is a first-time head coach in the clash, but has served as an assistant. He recently completed his first season as head coach of the Rustlers after a long term assisting legendary Jack Johnson in the CMR program. Lowry played under Johnson, too. Johnson retired as the state’s winning-est coach after the 2013 season.
Both Peoples and Lowry guided their prep teams into state championship games last fall as Butte Central lost a thriller to Dillon in the Class A title tilt and C.M. Russell fell to Kalispell Glacier in the Class AA finale.
West practiced at the Montana Tech complex in Butte through the week and the East held its workouts on the Rocky Mountain College campus in Billings. Both teams traveled to Great Falls Friday to begin two days of Shrine Game activities prior to the Saturday night game.
“This is exciting,” Peoples said on Thursday before taking the West through its last preparations. “The Shrine Game is a Montana tradition. Forty of the last 50 years, I think I’ve been at a Shrine Game.
“The game is big again today. We only had to replace three kids this year.”
Rosters are announced on Christmas Day for the following summer’s Shrine Game. Alternates are also picked. For many years, the Shrine Game was Montana’s only all-star prep football classic. The Badlands Bowl, which pits Montana stars against North Dakota counterparts, joined Class B and Class C eight-man and six-man all-star tilts in the summer schedule and interest did wane for a span of years concerning the Shrine Game.
It had always been held in Great Falls, then a plan was hatched to rotate it through three cities with Butte and Billings taking turns as host roles with Great Falls. It gave more time for proper preparations and the project flourished. The donation total topped $100,000 for the first time when Butte played host in 2010 and interest soared again.
Prior to the resurgence, it wasn’t uncommon to see some of the top stars skip the game for various reasons. Now, it has become rare again for a player chosen to play to opt out of the game. Many have spoken in recent years about the honor play among the best and for the patients of the hospital.
Butte will be well-represented in the game with Peoples and Butte Central assistant Stephan Burns on the coaching staff joined by four Butte Central players and two from Butte High. The Maroons are Danny Peoples, linebackers Chad Peterson and Kaemen Richards, and offensive lineman Marcus Ferriter. The Bulldogs are represented by wide receiver Dalton Daum and safety Clay Dean.
“It’s been an awesome week,” coach Peoples said. “It’s been a lot of fun to work with these great coaches and football players from western Montana.
“It’s amazing to see that when there are some points (being taught) that are slow to go, you see the kids are gelling. It’s a challenge to put a team together in seven days but both go through the same thing.”
The game will see more than 50 players headed for college football, including at least 15 destined for Division I programs. A few others will be competing for college basketball and track squads.
Peoples said the West came through drills pretty intact. He said a couple players are nursing injuries and it will be game-time decisions as to their availability.
The coach said speed should be a West attribute on both sides of the ball.
“We have great team speed,” he said. “We have outstanding interior speed but all of them run well. I’m excited about our defense.
“And on offense, there are a lot of play-makers. Offense, though, is a little more challenging in all-star games. We have good speed in the backfield, and couple of good powerbacks, too.”
The mixture looks to be quite capable of swarming to the ball on defense, and putting up necessary points on defense. The running game saw some inside force during practice, but also a lot of off-tackle and edge destinations. The aerial facet seemed geared to a short-range passing attack with the home-run ball to two-time AA sprints champion Daum always a looming possibility.
The offense will be directed by Danny Peoples and Glacier product Brady McChesney, who is headed for Montana State.
Helena High’s Lane Kokoruda, a Montana Tech recruit, had a good week lugging the ball while Cory Diaz of Missoula Big Sky, Danny Mannix of Flint Valley (Drummond/Philipsburg) and Logan Jones of Glacier also figure into the ground attack. When a tight end is used, Missoula Big Sky grad Colin Bingham will fill the role. Bingham is the son of 14-year NFL lineman Guy Bingham and will play for his dad’s alma mater, Montana.
Joining the speedy Daum as wide-outs are Paul Hart of Helena High, Sean Mulcahy of Helena Capital and Ty Morgan of Columbia Falls.
For the second year, two Canadian athletes will play in the game, one for each team. The West’s is Colton Hunchak, a quarterback and receiver from the Notre Dame school in Calgary.
The line has good size, but also good athleticism with the likes of Ferriter at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, 6-2, 235-pound Harrison Kauffman of Glacier, 6-3, 240-pound Zach Brown of Hamilton. Michael Monaco, 6-2 and 230, of Anaconda is also on the offensive line.
“We have two quarterbacks with different styles,” coach Peoples said. “We have to get the ball to our play-makers and put the ball in the end zone.”
Defensively, the West will field the three Ferris cousins from Dillon as part of the unit with J.D. Ferris playing safety, Justin playing cornerback and Jason at linebacker. Dean will also be a safety with Peterson and Richards seeing duty at linebacker. The three Ferrises, along with Peterson and Richards will go on to Montana Western, and Dean will continue at Montana Tech. Parker Tezak of Dillon is in the West’s linebacking corps.
The defensive unit will also have Eastern Washington-bound Jayce Gilder of Corvallis at end. J.D. Ferris and Gilder both were quarterbacks on their high school teams’ offensive units. One of the stars of the defensive workouts in the West practices was Montana-bound safety Josh Sandry of Bigfork.
“Hopefully, the defense will swarm and create some turnovers and make our offense’s job easier,” coach Peoples said. “The East, though, has some great players, too.”
Among them are two quarterbacks headed for Montana Western — Casey Klaboe of Billings West and Dalton Palmer of Fairfield. Klaboe is the son of recently retired longtime Billings West coach Paul Klaboe. The elder Klaboe is a Butte native and will be on the sidelines as an East assistant this game.
East running backs are Liam Breen of Choteau and Holden Ryan of Billings Central while receivers include Chase Fossum of Glasgow/Nashua, Brent Keith of Miles City, Brandon Kubitz of Laurel and Kessler Leonard of Great Falls High.
Other threats include Bryce Cuchine of CMR and Ryder Rice of Savage, each of whom could be used in many ways.
Tight ends are Dan Oveson of Fairfield and Lane Seymour of Chinook.
A good-sized offensive line includes 6-6, 315-pound Brenden Barnes of the Centennial school in Calgary, 6-5, 295-pound Kyle Reitler of Billings Skyview and 6-5, 280-pound Mitch Brott of Billings West in the trench.
The defensive front is led by end Payton Sexe of CMR, Hunter Berg of Billings Skyview and Sawyer Barnes of Billings Senior. Jake Clark of Billings Senior, Jed Engebretsen, Parker Bernhardt of Billings West, Randy Keesler of Great Falls High, Brayden Konkol of Belgrade, Shane Larson of Conrad and Hunter Saltzman of Roundup will rotate through the linebacker spots.
Safety Reid Nelson of Great Falls Central was a star of last month’s Bob Cleverly Classic eight-man all-star game in Butte and will play for Montana Tech. The crew of outstanding cornerbacks include Koby Ruff of Belgrade.

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