They weren’t champions, but the 2015 Bulldogs just kept playing

NFL Films captured Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche in the moments after Joe Montana hit John Taylor for a 10-yard touchdown pass that put the San Francisco 49ers up 20-16 with 34 seconds left in Super Bowl XXIII.

“Thirty-four seconds,” Wyche said repeatedly while shaking his head. With the kickoff still coming, Wyche was lamenting how close the Bengals came to winning the Super Bowl. With 34 seconds left, the game was over.

Montana’s 49ers hung on to win their third Super Bowl. They won their fourth the next year.

As I watched that Wyche clip again recently, I thought to myself, “Man, I’m sure glad Sam Wyche wasn’t the head coach of the 2012 Butte High Bulldogs.”

When Bozeman converted the 2-point conversion to take a 36-35 lead over the Bulldogs with 22.9 seconds left in the Class AA State Championship game on Nov. 16, 2012, Butte High coach Arie Grey didn’t lament about how close his Dogs came to winning.

If NFL Films had a mic on Grey, they would have heard him calmly call for the kick return team to take the field. Then, they’d hear him tell field goal kicker Jake Dennehy to go to the net to warm up.

Dalton Daum responded with a nice kick return, taking the ball to the Butte High 46-yard line. Quarterback Dallas Cook scrambled for a nice gain before hitting a quick sideline pass to Daum.

Then, Grey called on Dennehy, who strolled in and booted a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bulldogs their first State title in 21 years.

Afterwards I asked Grey what he was thinking when Bozeman took the lead with 22.9 seconds left in the game. The coach said, “Just keep playing.”

Grey had the same approach a couple years earlier when Missoula Sentinel took, as coincidence would have it, a 36-35 lead over the Bulldogs on a 2-point conversion with 47 seconds left.

Someone on the sideline complimented Grey on a great effort that nearly won the game.

“Forget that,” Grey said with an intense look on his face. “We’re winning this.”

Butte High receiver Dunk Abbott made a one-handed catch from Matt Berg, and Berg drilled a 39-yard field goal as time expired for a 38-36 homecoming victory.

With just about any other coach making the call, the Bulldogs lost both those games 36-35, and the school and its fans are still crying about that tough loss to the Hawks in the title game.

Actually, Butte High probably never would have been in the championship game in the first place if Grey’s team wasn’t absolutely sure it would overcome a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to Great Falls Russell in the semifinals six days earlier.

As good as Grey was on the sidelines in those tight situations for the Bulldogs, he was just as good, if not better, this year as his team lost nine straight games to finish 1-9.

That might sound crazy, but through it all, the Bulldogs just kept playing. They played to the final whistle of every play and every game.

The Bulldogs just couldn’t overcome a rash of injuries that turned a team destined for a playoff run into a team with just one win.

Think about it for a second. On the Bulldogs’ second and third series of the season they lost probably their second best and their best player.

Paul Campbell went down with a torn ACL before quarterback Dylan Cook suffered a clean break of his collarbone.

The fans in Naranche Stadium took one look at Cook in a sling, and immediately said, “Season’s over.” At least a lot of them did, and they were right in regards to Bulldog title aspirations.

Cook is a bona fide NCAA Division I quarterback. He was arguably the best quarterback in the state. Campbell was a receiver who contributed since his sophomore season. No doubt he has a future playing college football, too, if he wants.

Then there were many, many more injuries that hit the Bulldogs, who could have fielded an All-Star team of players in casts, slings and splints.

With a healthy Cook and a healthy Campbell, the Bulldogs win at least six games this season. Probably more.

Still, nobody made excuses for the Bulldogs. That’s just how it goes sometimes. Every once in a while a team will suffer a decade worth of injuries in one season. This year it was Butte High’s turn.

On the morning after the first wave of injuries, I asked Grey what in the heck he was going to do.

“We’ll be OK,” the coach said, matter-of-factly. “We’re just going to keep playing.”

Keep playing the Bulldogs did. They probably set a school record for the number of sophomores playing, and starting.

The coaching staff adapted on the fly, at one point implementing a system of poster boards to signal in the play to the group of young players.

Along the way, the young Bulldogs gained experience that most Class AA teams never get the chance to pick up.

The injuries made them weaker this season, but those same injuries will make the Bulldogs stronger next year and the year after that. The players who reveled in beating up on the Boys from Butte had better enjoyed it while they can.

Coach Grey’s Bulldogs will work hard in the off-season, and their 5-foot-9, 140-pound sophomore starting quarterback will become a bigger, stronger junior quarterback. Their bruising sophomore running back will also be bigger and stronger.

The Bulldogs will continue to just play, just like those Bengals didn’t in January of 1989.

In defense of Sam Wyche, Cincinnati needed to score a touchdown, not a field goal, in those 34 seconds. But a field goal in high school football, especially on a November night in the Rocky Mountains, is probably less likely than an NFL touchdown in perfect conditions in Miami.

Of course, the NFL touchdown is virtually impossible if the head coach is telling himself and his players how close his team came to winning instead of just continuing to play.

I can’t help but think how different history would have been had Grey coached the Bengals.

Grey would have calmly called for his kick-return team following Taylor’s catch, and Joe Montana might only be wearing three rings.

— Bill Foley, who realizes Joe Montana has five rings if you count the one he won with Notre Dame, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 2 comments



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2 Comments

  • George Polich
    November 10, 2015, 3:15 pm

    Nice article Bill. The Dogs played hard every game and every down. I am Looking forward to next year.

    REPLY
  • IS.4110
    November 12, 2015, 8:23 am

    yeah they kept a positive attitude the whole season and the fans appreciate that.

    REPLY

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