By Bill Foley
Last October, Helena Capital ruined the Butte High home playoff game with a 20-7 victory over the Bulldogs.
On Friday, Butte High will try to ensure that the Bruins don’t make as much of their homecoming festivities when the teams meet at 7 p.m. at Naranche Stadium. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)
The Bulldogs are also looking for a fifth straight win as the Bruins come to town for the key West AA showdown. (List of the capital; list of Butte High)
Butte High comes in at 3-0 in conference and 4-1 overall. Capital is 2-1, 3-2 after a closer than it appears 21-7 loss to Kalipsell Glacier. A win would give the Bulldogs an indoor track to stage a first-round playoff game – at least.
While Butte High fans are certainly talking about the revenge factor and the playoff race, Gray has said his Bulldogs are not.
“They’re focused on what we can do to improve ourselves,” said Gray, giving this week’s version of “On to Cincinnati”.
Gray said the Bulldogs, who came off a 24-0 win last week at Missoula Big Sky, will have to do their best to beat longtime nemesis Butte High.
The coach said the Bruins, who have a 21-8 advantage over Butte High in the rivalry dating back to 1980, are better than their 3-2 record.
“I felt like they should have beaten Glacier. They had chances, ”Gray said. “Four times they were in the red zone and didn’t score.”
Seniors Luke Sullivan and Dylan Graham give the Bruins a brace for the running back. This assumes that both will play. Graham missed last week with an injury.
“We assume he will be back,” Gray said of Graham
Junior quarterback Joey Michelotti leads the Bruin offense. He made 56 percent of his passes. He’s pitched for three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Senior Eric Cockhill and junior Tom Carter lead the team with 14 receptions each.
“Offensively, they have guns,” Gray said. “They have a good quarterback. ”
The Bulldogs have allowed just one score in the past two weeks, and that came after a very deep turnaround in Butte High territory in a 48-7 victory at Kalispell Flathead.
The Bulldogs have the best scoring defense in the AA West. They have given up just 52 points in five games.
“What I really like about what we do defensively is that we’ve been great on top conversions,” said Gray. “When we return the ball offensively, our defense did a good job getting saves. It’s huge.”
Linebackers Keegan Muffich, Luke Andersen and Connor Konda have thrived for the Bulldogs behind a defensive line that includes Max Demarais, Zach Tierney, Kooper Klobucar, Marcus Manson, Riley Downey, Dylan Snyder and Rylan Mulcahy.
Snyder leads the team with five sacks and Downey has three. Muffich, Andersen, Manson, Mulcahy, and Tierney all have sacks. Muffich leads the team with 50 total tackles. Safety Cole Stewart is just behind with 47.
Stewart and safety Wiley Dallaserra have been playmakers in the Bulldog secondary all season. The same goes for cornerbacks Kale McDonald and Holt Downey. Kenley Leary, a senior who started the season as a quarterback, has also been a factor as a nickelback and linebacker for the Bulldogs.
Gray highlighted a red zone stoppage for the Bulldogs last week when speaking about his defense, which is led by longtime defensive coordinator Bryan Arntson.
“We play with a ton of energy on defense,” said Gray. “We play fast, and we play physical. It was fun watching our defense over the past five weeks.
A week ago, Gray said the Bulldog offense was not at its best. He said the team never found their rhythm. He said the Bulldogs are hungry to improve as they head into the final four games.
Quarterback Jace Stenson has two of the state’s best targets at Snyder and Cameron Gurnsey. Gurnsey leads all Montana prep players in receptions (40) and receiving yards (555) Snyder, who has 20 catches for 290 yards, has just finished his second game with more than 100 receiving yards.
Jonas Sherman, Cole Worley, Braydon Cetraro and Leary are also weapons for the Bulldogs in the passing game. Gavin Vetter, Hunter Hotalen, Leary and Stenson are all threats to direct the ball for Butte.
Vetter racked up 325 yards on 84 carries behind linemen Tierney, Mulcahy, Klobucar, Daniel Huerta, Quinn Boyle, Wyatt Mullaney, Blake Facincani and Devon Cook.
Butte High linemen will face a tough test with the Bruins, who have 29 sacks this season. Junior Talon Marsh leads with 10 sacks, while senior lineman Cole Soper has seven.
Junior linebacker Joey Lauerman leads Capital with 53 total tackles.
Despite the two losses, the Bruins have given up just 61 points in five games.
“Their front seven is really good. Their front four is really good. Their whole defense is just off, ”Gray said. “They are really a young team and they are improving every week. They’re good in all three phases of the game. They’ve scored on blocked ground, they’ve scored on a punt return, they’ve had big kicking returns, they’re solid in the kicking game. . They are just good.
Of course, no team has a better weapon on special teams than Butte High senior Casey Kautzman and that was before he scored a school record of 51 yards last week.
His kicks and punts have given the Bulldogs a field advantage all season.
Kautzman is also one of five Bulldogs contending for the title of Reunion King. The others are Worley, Demarais, Vetter and Stewart.
“We’ve got a bit of a distraction,” Gray said of the homecoming festivities that have taken over school all week. “And they become children.”
Next week Butte High will celebrate Silver B’s Night when the Kalispell Glacier hits town. After a trip to Missoula Hellgate, Butte High will close the regular season at home against defending State Champion Missoula Sentinel.