A barrage of pyrotechnics marked the end of the Shrine game, but it was a safety that signaled the beginning of the West team's own fireworks show.
The West squad rallied from an 18-0 deficit to post a 34-18 victory over the East in the 64th annual Montana East-West Shrine football game Saturday in front of 4,954 fans at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Butte defensive lineman Cole Tripp roared around the right side of the East line and tackled quarterback Josiah Moerkerke in the end zone for a safety that sparked the West offense into action late i the second quarter.
The Mountain side went on to score on each of its next five possessions to storm past the Prarie side and win the second straight game for the West. The overall series stands at 36-28, in favor of the East.
Future UM track star Drew Owens of Missoula Big Sky caught touchdown passes of 44, 47 and 12 yards - all from Smithwick-Hann, and was named the West team's most valuable offensive player.
The West also saw a record-breaking 91-yard touchdown pass play between Smithwick-Hann and Sheridan's Casey Crippen, as well as a key 2-yard blast from Glacier's Taylor Hart.
West head coach Steve Pinsoneault said he wasn't overly worried about his team's 18-0 predicament with just six minutes left in the first half.
"All week long these guys showed they were ready to outwork anyone," Pinsoneault said. "There were a few unfortunate things that happened early on, but we just kept working. It was only a matter of time before coach (Bob) Connors' explosive offense was going to kick in. Then our offensive line settled in and we were OK.
The West offense sputtered in the first quarter, only reaching the East side of the field in the last seconds of the period with a booming punt by Smithwick-Hann,who will go on to play for the UM Grizzlies.
The East took advantage, as Augusta's Rhett Young scored on a 6-yard counter on the team's first series. The East tacked on another score when Moerkerke connected with Billings West's Seth Compton on a 73-yard scoring strike.
Billings Skyview running back Carson Hilliard broke three tackles on a 16-yard scamper on the East's next possession, and they held an 18-0 edge.
The West defenders prevented each PAT attempt, as Missoula Hellgate's Shawn Jensen blocked the first kick, Butte Central's Sean Ferriter sacked Moerkerke on the second, and Helena linebacker Jackson Lang ended the third try with a sack.
"Definitely, the turning point for us was Tripp's safety," Ferriter said."We rolled after that. The offense was unstoppable. At half we knew we were going to come out and score again."
The West defensive MVP, Polson linebacker Joe Andrews, was in the East backfield nearly as much as the Yellow running backs. He was in on multiple sacks and tackles for loss, and also ran the ball once on offense.
For the East, the defensive MVP was Payton Skawinski of Great Falls Russell, while Billings Central quarterback Cole Cattelan was named his team's offensive MVP.
The West lost a few players to injury over the course of the game, as Tyson Ferda of Whitefish, Seth Walton of Helena Capital and Columbia Falls quarterback Mitchell Wassam went out with a concussion.
"This was a blast," said Butte Central defensive lineman Justin "Boots" Dunbar. "I started my varsity career on this field with a win, and ended it here with a win."
East 12 6 0 0 - 18
West 0 15 13 6 - 34
EAST - Rhett Young 6 run (kick blocked), 11:37
EAST - Seth Compton 73 pass from Josiah Moerkerke
(run failed), 1:17
EAST - Carson Hilliard 16 run (run failed), 14:52
WEST - Safety, Cole Tripp sacked Moerkerke in the end
WEST - Taylor Hart 1 run (run failed), 1:59
WEST - Drew Owens 44 pass from Shay Smithwick-Hann
(Chase Kloker kick), 1:08
WEST - Owens 47 pass from Smithwick-Hann (Kloker
WEST - Owens 12 pass from Smithwick-Hann (kick
WEST - Casey Crippen 91 pass from Smithwick-Hann
A - 5,400 (est.).
First downs 10 15
Rushes-yards 38-98 37-95
Passes 11-27-1 24-38-1
Passing yards 190 343
Return yards84 38
Punts-avg. 4-28.0 7-35.0
Fumbles-lost 6-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 9-65 8-52
Kickoff return yards 10 38
RUSHING - East, Carson Hilliard 15-57, Rhett Young 7-31,
Cole Cattelan 11-21, Josiah Shawn Wolf 6-(-1), Moerkerke 1-
(-10). West, Taylor Hart 8-55, Jonny Dilworth 6-19, Matt
Thibault 1-11, Mitchell Wassam 4-11, T.J. Leep 7-11, Joe
Andrews 1-3, Shay Smithwick-Hann 8-(-2), Team 1-(-13).
PASSING - East, Cattelan 10-22-1-112, Moerkerke 1-5-0-
73. West, Smithwick-Hann 22-31-0-324, Wassam 2-7-1-19.
RECEIVING - East, Seth Compton 4-120, Young 1-43,
Brian Flotkoetter 3-36, Jordan Harper 1-11, Greg Oswood 2-
8. West, Drew Owens 7-139, Casey Crippen 1-91,Thibault 9-
77, Toby Shepherd 2-23, Adam Johnson 4-14, Jonny Dilworth
Missed field goals - none.
Interceptions, Compton for the East; Chad Price for the
Fumble recovery - Glen Maricelli for the West.