Hamilton's Brown breaks free

Hamilton's Caden Brown tries to shake off two Whitefish defenders in the second quarter on Friday. Brown finished with two touchdowns in the season opener and Hamilton won on its home field, 36-10.

HAMILTON — The quick-strike offense that made the Hamilton Broncs so lethal in their state runner-up season of 2017 took almost two full quarters to kick in during the season opener Friday against Whitefish.

Almost two full quarters. All the Broncs needed was to call on their two-minute, hurry-up offense just before halftime to get things going. The fast-paced play led to a touchdown and sparked a 36-10 debut win against the Bulldogs in Class A nonconference play.

"We just practiced our two-minute offense yesterday so our kids were ready," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. "It's tough, kids are still trying to get into game shape, and it was big. It kind of got us going a little bit."

The series — and game — started somewhat flat for the Broncs. A Whitefish interception with less than five minutes in the second quarter threatened to keep Hamilton's lead at just one score, 6-0. When the Broncs got the ball back after a Whitefish punt, their first two passes fell incomplete.

A 20-yard Carson Rostad pass on third down to Caden Brown got the chains — and the ball — moving. The gains started coming in bunches from there.

Rostad found Michael Golden for 19 yards on a screen pass two plays after Brown's big gainer, and Brown added two more receptions of 20-plus yards on the drive. His final snag came on a crossing route in the middle of the field, and he flipped head-over-heels on the 2-yard line while trying to dive in the end zone.

One play later, Golden punched it in from two yards out to give Hamilton six points. Rostad's 2-point conversion pass to Brock Jones gave the Broncs a 14-0 lead headed into halftime and a big sigh of relief.

"It was huge, that helped our team a lot," Brown said of the score before the break. "We had (four) turnovers; it was tough for us to move the ball. Once we did that, we knew what we needed to do and it just killed all the nerves."

The Bulldogs weren't done, however. On their second series of the second half, still trailing 14-0, Whitefish's split-time quarterback Mark Anderson connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass to Carver Gilman. Gilman, who also booted a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the Bulldogs, beat his Bronc defender on a streak down the sidelines.

"...Down two touchdowns at halftime, playing on the road against a team that went to state last year, I just told the guys it's a long season and we'll just keep playing hard," Whitefish coach Chad Ross said.

But Hamilton's offense was not to be outdone. Brown, who scored the Broncs first touchdown on a 4-yard completion from Rostad, swung momentum back to Hamilton with a 50-yard kick return and a 36-yard reception down to the 4-yard line.

Hamilton's Tyler Barnes got the call a play later, scoring the first of his two touchdowns on a corner route to give the Broncs a 20-7 lead. Rostad then ran it in for two more, making it 22-7.

Brown, starting in his first varsity game as a wide receiver, and Barnes each added another touchdown reception before time ran out.

"Caden did awesome, he's worked hard at it, he's ran routes all summer and he's really stepped up as a senior," coach Carver said. "And Barnes, he's kind of my safety shield, he's always been solid for three years. Those guys did awesome today."

Up next, Whitefish welcomes Frenchtown for the Bulldogs' home opener at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Hamilton heads to Columbia Falls for a rematch of last season's Class A state championship game, also scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.

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