BILLINGS – Alex Bruns is a little more tired after football games this year as opposed to last season.
Why? The Billings West senior was the team’s starting quarterback a year ago, but this season has stepped into a larger role as a starting receiver and special teams player while seeing plenty of time as a defensive back for the Golden Bears.
Bruns’ unselfish move has earned him more playing time while also making room for junior Josh Erbacher under center, who has thrived in six games this season as the team’s new quarterback.
The positives from that decision were on full display Friday night at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium in West’s 42-6 win over Butte. On West’s first play from scrimmage, Bruns did line up at quarterback and scrambled for a 16-yard gain. Then, on the very next play, West went with five receivers with Erbacher at quarterback, and he found Bruns streaking wide open down the middle of the field for what turned out to be a 67-yard touchdown.
From one quarterback to another and away West went.
“I lined up and I looked at the middle of the field and no one was there,” Bruns said. “I knew Josh knew, I knew, and it worked out just as we thought it would.”
The score simply opened the floodgates for West. Erbacher finished the game 15 for 23 for three touchdowns and one interception. All of his touchdowns came in the first half as he found Jesse Owens and Trevin Gradney for scores as well. West’s offense was efficient and racked up 617 total yards of offense. Defensively, the Golden Bears forced six turnovers for the second straight week.
Bruns finished with three catches for 76 yards, seemingly adapting to his new roles better each week.
“That’s what I like about it the most is I’m on the field way more than I ever was (last year),” Bruns said. “At practice, I’m practicing everything. It’s tiring but I like it.
“It means a lot. I feel like I’m in a pretty big role as are a lot of people on this team to contribute into this 5-1 team, which is awesome. I’m happy with it and playing everywhere. I want to help as much as I can.”
“He’s just a spark plug,” West coach Rob Stanton said. “He’s a kid that has a drive to be so competitive. He wants to win. We’re just so proud of the kid because he’s accepted his role and now he’s excelling at it.”
Gradney, who currently holds offers to play football for Montana State and Montana, is one of the state’s top defensive backs. Offense is a new thing to him, though, and he said he stepped in midweek due to injury to another player at receiver. In the second quarter, he caught a simple out route, toed the line, made a Butte defender miss, and went 75 yards to put West up 20-0 at that point.
“I came out on my route and I stumbled and I looked up and Josh had already thrown the ball so I caught it and then I made my man miss and went to the end zone,” Gradney, who finished with 109 receiver yards, said. “It’s kind of a new thing for me (playing offense), but hopefully I’ll play some more. It was fun. I like to score touchdowns.”
The second half belonged to running back DeMarcus Carr, who finished the game with 189 yards and three touchdowns. Two of Carr's three scores came in the second half to seal the game.
Butte’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Tommy Mellott on an 8-yard scramble right before halftime. Mellott and running back Josh Neil each ran for over 100 yards, but turnovers killed the Bulldogs. They lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions but amounted 371 total yards of offense. Head coach Arie Grey noted that if they clean up a few of those mishaps, the score could’ve been much closer.
“I thought we did some nice things, we just didn’t do enough of them,” Grey said. “Against a good team like Billings West, you have to be firing on all cylinders. We’ve got to cut down on our mental errors defensively and offensively we moved the ball into the red zone. Those are some things we have to get better at and cut down on the mental mistakes. But we played hard and we fought and we battled. We’ll go back to the drawing board and get better tomorrow.”
Next week West (5-1) hits the road to take on Helena Capital (3-3), while Butte (2-4) is right back in Billings to take on Senior (4-2).