BUTTE — Friday night was a culmination of everything Butte has been working towards.
The Bulldogs finished out a 9-0 regular season with a 60-13 win over Missoula Hellgate, their biggest margin of victory in 2019 and an ideal exclamation point for senior night.
As it has been all season, pace has been a key attribute of both Butte’s strategy and their execution. Before eight minutes had ticked off the clock at Narache Stadium, the Bulldogs had found the end zone three times.
Butte’s night started with a bang. In just five plays and 75 seconds, the Bulldogs took an opening lead after senior quarterback Tommy Mellott found junior receiver Ryan Neil on a 42-yard touchdown.
Butte head coach Arie Grey noted that starting with that kind of pace is integral to the team’s identity.
“We stress starting fast,” Grey said. “Offensively, defensively, even special teams. It’s a big part of what we try to do every game. When we can do that, it’s fun, but it’s always a mantra. Hats off to the kids, they executed really well.”
The Bulldog defense also joined in on the blistering pace, earning an early turnover on the Knights’ opening drive, the first of three for Butte’s defense.
As mentioned, the defense’s solidity was only outdone by a white-hot offense. Mellott tossed three touchdowns before being pulled out of the game at halftime. Senior running back Kam Moreno also lit up the scoreboard with a hat-trick of his own, finishing with 118 yards on 14 attempts.
For the Knights, the lack of starting QB Rollie Worster made for an even more difficult challenge, as Aiden Gilham stepped in.
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The senior played his first game back from injury, and Hellgate head coach Mick Morris credited Gilham for making the most of a tough spot, as the 6’5” quarterback completed 16 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a 5-yard passing score to receiver Ian Finch.
“It was great for him to get an opportunity,” Morris said. “He’s been out all season after ankle surgery, so it was fun for him. He was nervous in the beginning, but he made some really nice throws in the first half. For getting thrown to the wolves, he did really well.”
While Hellgate looks to their immediate Class AA playoff game next week, Butte will enjoy the benefit of a bye week, which Grey says will be opportune for reflection.
“We get an opportunity to look at ourselves,” Grey said. “Do a lot of self-scouting but also get back to some basic stuff. We know there are things we have to get better at, and it’s nice to have some time to do that.”
The prospect of a home run to the state championship must be enticing for the Bulldogs, and that extra week of prep is an advantage Grey and his team will need to make the most of.
However, for the Bulldogs seniors, Friday night was one to savor. For senior offensive tackle Konor McClafferty, the final regular season win was about finishing a project that has been four years in the making for this class.
“Tonight means a lot,” McClafferty said. “Going out on the regular season like this with all our guys. We have a great team, and I’d do anything for these guys. They all deserved it.”
Mellott also acknowledged the special situation he and his class are in, but Butte’s talisman made it a point after the win to say thanks to the people who got him where he is: his parents.
“Senior night is really the time to show thanks to the parents,” Mellott said. “It’s really special. They put in just as much work as we do, they’ve been there since the beginning. We can’t thank them enough, and I love my parents so much.”