HELENA – After a few extra weeks of waiting, the Class AA football season finally starts Friday night and that means the renewal of an old-school rivalry between Butte and Helena.
Last year, both Helena teams paid a visit to Butte and the Bulldogs knocked off the Bengals and Bruins by double digits.
But the Butte team that will invade Vigilante Stadium Friday night for the season opener will have lots of new faces and few returners. Jake Olson, a 6-foot-6 tight end/defensive end is one name to watch, but even so Helena isn’t taking the Bulldogs lightly.
“They lost a lot of talented guys,” Helena head coach Scott Evans said. “But they have a great O-line coming back. Coach (Arie) Grey does a great job. They have a great tight end and they have one of the biggest offensive lines we face. Not many teams match up to their size.”
In addition to losing Tommy Mellott, an All-State quarterback with more than 1,000 yards rushing, as well as more than 2,000 passing, the Bulldogs also graduated Kameron Moreno, who rushed for over 1,300 yards.
Butte does return some veteran receivers in Ryan Neil and Banner Cetraro in addition to Olson, but the Bulldogs will also be breaking in new starting quarterback Blake Drakos.
Helena High, on the other hand, won’t have that concern, as Kaden Huot gets set for his second year as the Bengals’ starting quarterback. He will also have the benefit of playing with a defense that returns the majority of its starters from a year ago.
“I’m excited about playing Butte,” Evans said. “I hate to say it, but I really like the Butte stadium. I like the atmosphere. They like to yell at me and some people don't' like it, but I live for it. So I'll be honest, I'll miss that, but I’m excited to see those guys again. We have a lot of respect for them."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Helena Capital at Kalispell Glacier
The Bengals will be at home Friday night, but Helena Capital will open its 2020 season on the road, in Kalispell, against Glacier.
The Bruins beat the Wolfpack in a shootout last season 48-33. Yet, this time around, Capital will be breaking in a new starting quarterback Matt Burton, as well as numerous starters on both sides of the ball.
Glacier also has some pieces to replace too, but the Wolfpack also return JT Allen at quarterback who is the top passer returning from a season ago. Last year, he threw 24 touchdown passes, including a 223-yard, two-touchdown day against Capital.
On top of Allen, Glacier, which was fifth in the Western AA last season, also brings back Jake Redina, who is the only returning 1,000-yard rusher back from last season in Class AA. He had 54 yards on 16 carries against Capital.
Tyler Little will help lead the way for the Bruins and head coach Kyle Mihelish on defense, while Quinn Belcher, the Bruins leading receiver back on the roster, will be relied upon, as will Tiegan Cozzie at running back.
Friday's game will be the first of back-to-back road games to start the season for Capita, which is at Missoula Sentinel next Friday. The Bruins and Wolfpack will start things off at 7 p.m.
Last week, Townsend wrapped up nonconference play with a 27-12 win over Eureka, the defending Class B state champions.
Leading the way was a stingy defense, which notched three interceptions and quarterback Trey Hoveland, who accounted for four touchdowns in the win. This week, Hoveland and the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-0) will open things up in the Southern B with a trip to Big Timber.
Big Timer is 0-1 after a lopsided defeat to Red Lodge last week. The Bulldogs, who made the playoffs a year ago, are looking for their second straight win.
Jefferson will also play its Southern B opener Friday night and like Townsend, the Panthers will be on the road. They will travel to Columbus after going down 18-6 on the road against Whitehall last week.
Braden Morris will lead the way at quarterback for the Panthers. He threw for 179 yards last week and connected with Joey Visser six times. Riley Stock will be another name to watch after 12 rushes for 38 yards and a touchdown last week.
Kickoff time for both Southern B contests is 7 p.m.