MISSOULA — In a matchup between two teams on the opposite ends of the Western AA standings, Butte High and Missoula Hellgate gave football fans a show on Thursday evening at MCPS Stadium, as the Bulldogs used a late touchdown and defensive stand to top the Knights, 30-27.
Butte quarterback Jace Stenson threw three touchdowns in the game but none bigger than his 8-yard connection with Cameron Gurnsey with 4:01 left in the game as the Bulldogs took the lead for good in a back-and-forth contest.
Hellgate took the ensuing drive all the way to Butte's 24-yard line with 1:40 left but the Bulldogs stood tough and halted the Knights from scoring to seal the win.
Casey Kautzman went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts in the first half as Butte jumped to a 9-7 lead, with Hellgate's touchdown coming on its first drive on a pass from Connor Dick to Ian Finch from 17 yards.
The Knights regained the lead with 7:55 to go in the first half as Dick found Jacob Sweatland on a screen pass and Sweatland went 56 yards to the end zone to make it 13-9 Knights. Butte quickly responded with its first touchdown, a connection between Stenson and Gavin Vetter from 21 yards out.
Hellgate again grabbed the lead on a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Sweatland with 1:39 left in the half, but it took Butte two plays to answer and head into halftime with a 23-20 lead after Stenson found Dylan Snyder on a crossing route. Snyder then did the rest himself for a 56-yard score.
After no scoring in the third quarter, Dick tossed his third touchdown pass of the game, this time finding Leo Filardi for a 30-yard score with 9:43 left in the game. Hellgate held firm on Butte's next offensive drive but couldn't get anything going on offense themselves to put the game away, before giving the ball back to the Bulldogs who went on to score the game-winner.
Butte finished with 481 total yards of offense as Stenson completed 21 of 29 passes for 308 yards and three scores. Gurnsey caught nine passes for 118 yards while Snyder added seven receptions for 105 yards. Vetter finished with 18 carries and 99 yards on the ground for the Bulldogs.
Hellgate finished with 440 total yards on offense as Dick completed 15 of 40 passes for 253 yards. He also carried the ball 19 times for 148 yards while Sweatland finished with 60 yards on the ground and 98 receiving. Finch finished with six catches for 80 yards.
Butte improves to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Western AA and helped position itself for a top seed and a bye in the Class AA playoffs. Missoula Sentinel (6-0, 4-0) and Helena Capital (5-2, 4-1) clash in Missoula on Friday in a big game. The top two seeds from each conference get a first round bye in the postseason and automatically advance to the quarterfinal round. The Bulldogs then host the Spartans next week to wrap up the regular season.
Hellgate falls to 2-5 overall and 1-4 in conference on the season.