Unbeaten Maroons, Locomotives clash Friday night

Two undefeated teams a third of the way into the prep football season will tangle Friday night at Bob Green Field in a Class A non-conference game.

The two squads, Butte Central and Laurel, have some familiarity headed into the 7 p.m. kickoff at the Montana Tech facility where BC defeated Laurel last year in the state Class A playoffs quarterfinals. It will be the Maroons’ homecoming game. (Radio: KOPR 94, online or 94.1 FM)

Both teams have also found success this season. Butte Central is 3-0 with wins of 16-10 over Belgrade, 22-0 over Browning and 39-13 over Hardin. The Locomotives have chugged past Livingston 48-0 and Belgrade 34-14.

“We’re excited to be home, too, after those two long road trips,” Don Peoples Jr., head coach of the Maroons, said, referring to BC’s games at Browning and Hardin the past two weekends after the home opener versus Belgrade. “The kids will be having a lot of fun with Homecoming this week.

“It seems a little early for Homecoming, but the weather seems like mid-October, so I guess it’ll feel like it.”

The mood was light Wednesday night, but facing Laurel will be a more serious business for the Butte Central players and coaching staff come Friday. The Locomotive offense has been smooth on the rails with quarterback Caje Golden sharing the role, but being responsible for most of the team’s scoring execution last weekend against Belgrade.

Laurel head coach Mike Ludwig, a one-time assistant for the Maroons, had to replace a number of seniors who graduated from last year’s state contending team. Junior Casey Cole, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, transferred from Forsyth to help the process. He ran for 132 yards on 10 carries against Belgrade.

Cole and Jared Craig each scored one touchdown rushing and one receiving against Belgrade. Golden is a tall, lanky QB at 6-2, 165. Ludwig can also count on returnees like his son, Connor, a wide receiver and linebacker, and Brandon Connolly, for good play. The line is anchored by a player almost as big as a locomotive in 6-foot-1, 315-pound Colter Hickok.

“They beat Livingston pretty handily and played really well in their win against Belgrade,” Peoples said of the Locomotives. “They’ll be the best team we’ll play so far.”

Peoples said Laurel, much like BC, will use run-pass balance on offense and quick pursuit on defense.

“They’re 60-40 (percent) pass to run,” he said. “It’s amazing that they were so senior-dominant last year and reloaded the way they have this year. They look really good on offense and they get to the ball well on defense.”

The coach said having two games on film for scouting Laurel has helped Butte Central in preparations. He said some new wrinkles might show, but does not expect any real surprises.

“They run their offense and their defense,” he said. “And they do it well. But we know what we’ll be up against and that helps with preparations.”

The Maroons continue to be without star running back and defensive end Kyle Harrington because of a torn ACL. He will miss his senior season. Consequently, BC has used the first couple of weeks to adjust and adapt.

Several other good players are back for Butte Central from last year and some more are being developed. Some changes of position have taken place for improved use of the personnel, Peoples indicated.

On offense, junior quarterback Tanner Kump, looked to have found his stride against Hardin and closed the game with a strong fourth quarter. Junior Blake Burton has taken over the main running chores, but the ball also is handed off to junior Nate McGree and sophomore fullback Ryan Moodry, depending on sets.

Senior Cole Harper is one of the leading receivers in the state. Senior Cal Hollow, McGree and junior Sam Johnston also rotate through the receiver spots while senior Colin McArthur is at tight end.

The offensive line has sophomore Dylan Shea at center surrounded by good size and strength in senior guard Jake Michelotti (6-0, 240), junior guard Ryan Richards (5-11, 285), and senior tackles Ethan St. John (6-3, 265) and Kyle Schulte (6-2, 205).

The defense rotates St. John, Michelotti and Richards through the tackle spots with McArthur and Schulte manning the ends. Burton and sophomore Hunter Hartwick share an inside linebacker spot while Moodry is at the other. Outside linebackers are Hollow and Johnston. The secondary has junior Ryan Ashby and Harper at the corners, and McGree at safety.

Hollow, McArthur, Richards and Schulte are among the veterans who started at other positions prior to this season and willingly made changes to help the team. Hollow had been a safety, McArthur a wide receiver, cornerback and inside linebacker, Richards a center and Schulte a tight end, fullback and outside linebacker.

“We’ve had a good week of preparations,” Peoples said. “And, we had a good fourth quarter last week against Hardin. We put things together and scored on all of our times in the red zone. Hopefully, that will continue this week.

“Tanner threw the ball well and he had a great fourth quarter. It was his best game so far.”

Kump is in his first year as a starter after backing up at QB last season.

Peoples said the Maroons have remained fairly healthy except for the loss of Harrington.

“We have some typical bumps and bruises,” he said. “Health is the key to any football season.”

Even though the game is a non-conference tilt, the result could have bearing on playoff qualification and seeding under the new power rating system Class A is using for advancement to postseason this year. All games factor into the determinations.

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