The legend grows at Naranche Stadium

The comments that wove through Naranche Stadium early in Saturday night’s East-West Shrine Game football showcase were a somewhat less enthusiastic than could be found in most summer evening revival tent meetings.

The East, though, did own a 28-0 advantage moments into the second quarter.

“I thought the West was supposed to be favored,” was one cry.

“I guess we know how this one’s going to turn out,” was another.

“Does the 35-point (mercy) rule apply to all-star games?” pondered an onlooker.

Disappointment for most was overtaking the larger portion of the north side stands on a beautiful July dusk in historical Uptown Butte. East fans, however, were enjoying the lopsided beginning. Their team was rolling and they were rocking.

If Naranche Stadium was not already the perfect name for the facility, something like Comeback Coliseum or Determination Hall would be apt. Never give up on the home team when on this hallowed piece of ground.

The Butte High Bulldogs gathered big play after big play, mixed miracles with sincere intent and brought the town a state Class AA football championship last fall in a season and outcome that would have been considered too far-fetched even for the movies if we had not had the thrill of witnessing it ourselves.

Six of the those Bulldogs were on that West team Saturday night. They knew better than to succumb, especially not even halfway through a contest. They experienced the Naranche soul.

Still, some negativity had invaded the West sideline after the East’s fourth touchdown without response from the opponent. It seemed odd, the four-TD spread, with the West being the home team and all, sporting plays, players and coaches from the familiar neighborhoods.

Some bickering, however, was detected.

Survivors of the first Shrine Game, 67 years back, Butte High grads Tom LeProwse and Bob Schulte were honored at the pre-game coin flip and Sudah Davis, a Butte sixth-grader running on artificial legs she received from the Shriners, illustrating the main reason this game is held every summer, led West on to the field.

It wouldn’t seem much more inspiration should be needed. The East, though, playing great football on all units, seized the momentum. Then, maybe even quicker, gave it away.

West quarterback Quinn McQueary of Manhattan was knocked head-first into a brick wall on a late hit at the West’s side of the field. Suddenly, the West stars were not mad at each other anymore. They refound a common purpose. They funneled their anger into a surge, a determination, a force that turned the way of the game.

The West scored the next 31 points and the East never got to the end zone or split goalpost uprights again.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone believes anymore the illegal hit on McQueary, who was voted the game MVP, was at all intentional. This is an easy game to catch you up in the moment and the excitement and anxiousness presses the players into playing at full throttle. Kids are picked for their character as well as for their football talent for this yearly contest pitting the state’s top high school senior football players from the previous fall.

Still, the West had found cause to refocus, even if, at least temporarily, it was to inflict some punishment.

“It’s just like a Butte High game,” a fan said as the teams trotted off at halftime with the East clinging to an instantly close 28-23 edge.

“Just typical for Naranche,” said another, while another, long after, added that “Naranche games are all like that.”

Ah, the legend grows.

McQueary’s headiness and athleticism had a lot to do with the West’s successful rally as the team came together. Our kids played very large parts. Bryce Armstrong of Butte High caught six passes and his former Bulldog teammate, Jon Allen, caught one. Zach Bunney ran hard, of course, while linemen Drew Schleeman and Nick “Bubba” Butorovich helped protect McQueary and open holes for the offensive attack. Anthony “Chunk” Moritz was very key on the D-Line, particularly in second half.

The recent Butte High star took on as many East offensive linemen as he could find in the middle of the trenches to help force the East running plays to the flank. Joey Orrino of Anaconda and Max Orrin of Twin Bridges both then executed their parts, pushing the play to the back, collecting the ball carrier, or, at the very least, bouncing him to the outside where the ends were usually able to make the stop.

Butte Central cornerback Northey Tretheway protected the edge from the run and was airtight on pass coverage. Joey Joyce was around the ball on his second-half assignments. Twin Bridges linebacker Cole Miotke had an important tackle for loss during the West’s spirited rally, helping to deflate the East’s confidence some. Dillon’s Austin Carver caught a two-point conversion and snagged three other receptions.

Offensive lineman Caleb Gillis and defensive tackle Austin Hoerning, both of Dillon, contributed to the win, as well.

Butte High’s Arie Grey was the head coach of the winning team, adding to his personal legend that includes a Badlands Bowl victory and state AA championship in his two most previous head coaching efforts. Among those on his staff were his father, Mike, a longtime Deer Lodge assistant coach; Butte High offensive coordinator Mike Schmidt; Butte Central defensive coordinator Lee LaBreche; and Manhattan coach Dale McQueary, father of the game MVP.

Quinn McQueary passed for one touchdown and ran for another. His TD strike was a 4-yarder to the back of the end zone into the hands of Devin Jeffries, a Kalispell Glacier defensive end in on the play as a tight end. Gunnar Brekke of Helena Capital rushed for the winners’ other two touchdowns. Missoula Big Sky kicker Nico Graham booted a 23-yard field goal at the halftime horn.

The East fans quieted down in the second half, and sportsmanship remained good. The crowd was there to cheer because this was a night all about positives. The winners would enjoy the victory, the losers would have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, the crowd was treated to a great game, and funds for a worthy cause, the main focus of the entire endeavor, were being raised.

Even the kidding on the same side was good-natured as a man addressed some Butte residents in the bleachers with a smile.

“You know what one of the best parts of a game like this is,” he crowed. “Seeing all you Butte people have to cheer for Helena kids.”

It drew a laugh. Really, though, we cheer for kids anyway.

No monetary totals are in for what was raised for the Spokane Shrine Hospital for Children, but it is projected that the whole effort was very successful. The Butte committee did an outstanding job.

The stadium didn’t have as much seating as was available at Bulldog Memorial Stadium when the game was held in Butte in 2010, a year in which $103,000 was collected for the cause. The uptown venue used this year, however, connected with Butte’s and Montana’s football roots.

There may have been some extra, too. We’re not saying Naranche has gridiron ghosts at work, or anything, that could blow a pass off course or, say, loosen some turf or something at opportune moments. That would be an impossibility.

Then, again, the score had been 28-0 at one time, too. 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Yo Chi Boy
    July 24, 2013, 8:07 am

    Once again, Mr. Sayler, you are the man. Awesome piece.


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