One of the hardest things to do in sports is handle success and after a 28-point upset over No. 1 Missoula Sentinel last week, Helena High, ranked No. 2 now in the 406mtsports.com poll, will have to prove it can do that.
So far, it has. Helena, after losing its season-opener against Great Falls High, has now won four in a row. In the Western AA, Helena has led by at least 20 points in all three wins, even though the Bengals only ended up beating Butte by six.
The win over Sentinel means that Helena High, along with Capital, are the only teams in the Western AA that control their own destiny for the top seed. If the Bengals win against Glacier, they will be in an even better position.
Here’s a look ahead to that matchup, as well as other high school football games in the area.
No. 2 Helena (4-1, 3-0) at No. 4 Kalispell Glacier (3-2, 1-2), Friday 7 p.m.
People are also reading…
The Glacier offense and its explosiveness has been a topic of conversation all year long in Class AA football but the Bengals should get some credit too. Since the start of Western AA play, the Bengals have averaged 39.3 points per game.
One reason for that has been the standout play of wideout Manu Melo who has scored nine touchdowns this season for the Bengals. Melo has 18 receptions for 369 yards and eight touchdown receptions as well as a kickoff return for a score.
Cade Holland is also averaging more than 100 total yards per game and has 91 per game on the ground for the Bengals, who have also gotten plenty of production from first-year starting quarterback Carter Kraft, who is averaging 201 yards per game through the air, as well as 48 on the ground to go along with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
“Those guys have to been big for us (Manu Melo and Cade Holland),” Helena High head coach Dane Broadhead said. “So we have to keep them going no doubt.”
Much of that starts in the running game with Holland. However, with the emergence of Carson Anderson, who just committed to Montana Tech this past week, at wide receiver, Helena’s offense seems like an explosive play waiting to happen, sort of like Glacier’s.
“If we can run the ball well, that just opens things up so much,” Broadhead said. “And it’s really just about consistency. We feel good anytime we have Manu or Carson matched-up on the outside, then it’s just about giving Carter (Kraft) the time to do his thing.”
After holding the two-time defending state champs to seven points last week, Helena’s defense will be challenged by standout QB Gage Sliter and the Wolfpack. Sliter is throwing for 311 yards per game and directing an offense that averages 451 total yards and 43.5 points per game.
However, after facing Jace Stenson of Butte, Connor Dick of Hellgate, and Riley Allen of Sentinel, the Bengals are familiar with mobile quarterbacks. That doesn’t mean it’s any less of a challenge though.
“You have to try and keep him in the pocket,” Broadhead said. “You have to find a way to get a pass rush and those guys are going to have to get home. We can’t sit back and hope to cover them for four or five seconds. He’s too good. He’s got too many weapons and as a thrower, he’s got every club in the bag.”
Butte (3-2, 2-1) at No. 1 Helena Capital (5-0, 3-0), Friday 7 p.m.
There’s always a little more intensity when a team from Butte plays a team from Helena and the Butte-Helena Capital rivalry renews on Friday night at Vigilante Stadium.
This will be the Bulldogs’ second trip to Helena this season. Their first was a 41-35 loss at the hands of Helena High, but since then, Butte has won two in a row and is now just one game behind the Bruins and Bengals for first in the Western AA.
Jace Stenson is still the driving force behind the Bulldogs’ offense and is averaging 330 yards of total offense including 274 through the air. Capital is averaging 426 yards per game and has a balanced attack led by quarterback Joey Michelotti and a slew of playmakers including Nick Michelotti, Tom Carter, Dylan Graham, Hayden Opitz, and Tyler Kovick.
Graham has continued to emerge in the running game and went over 100 yards on the ground in Capital’s win over Glacier last week. Tom Carter also continues to be a threat as a runner and receiver. He scored a touchdown last week, while also catching a long pass to set up another.
“Dylan Graham has come along just as we hoped,” Capital head coach Kyle Mihelish said. “We wanted to ease him into things and take care of Dylan and make sure he was ready for later in the season. But he’s really come on. Tom Carter has been running the ball really well too and there isn’t much drop-off between either. We are lucky to have them.”
Both scored touchdowns on the ground last week for the Bruins in the second half, yet a key for Mihelish, is a faster start for CHS on Friday night.
“The message to the team was that we need to be ready to go,” Capital’s head coach said. “Give credit to Glacier. They were ready last week and we weren’t and if that continues to happen, we are going to have a tough second half of the season.”
One player who helped turn the tide last week was defensive lineman Talon Marsh, who finished with four sacks. Capital still hasn’t allowed a team to score 30 points in a game and has allowed just 75 total (15 per game) which is second only to Gallatin. Marsh is one of the reasons for that and the Montana State commit has 13 sacks, 25 solo tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 10 hurries.
Yet, many of the same weapons on offense, are also impact defenders. Nick Michelotti picked off two passes last week, while Carter is another key member of the secondary, not to mention Optiz at linebacker, along with the highly productive (linebacker) Joey Lauerman.
But, just like last week, a mobile quarterback will test the Bruins.
“It’s going to be the same thing we saw last week,” Mihelish said. “(Stenson) can really throw the ball but if you give him the chance, he can run too. That makes you do some things as a coach, especially on the back end, that you don’t want to do. So we need to keep him in the pocket and get pressure on him.”
It’s a recipe that worked for the The Bruins last week. We’ll see how things play out on Friday night as Capital, the last undefeated team in Class AA, puts that record on the line against Butte.
Townsend jumped up to No. 2 in the 406mtsports.com poll after last week after a double-digit win over Jefferson and now, Whitehall comes to town and the Trojans only loss is to…Jefferson.
Ryan Racht will lead the way for the Bulldogs, along with running back Dawson Sweat and a stingy defense that allows just a shade over 16 points per game.
The Panthers will also be at home Friday night in a big matchup against No. 8 Big Timber. Jefferson does have two losses but only one of them was in conference play. Luke Oxarart will play a vital role for Jefferson as the quarterback and leading rusher. However, Dylan Root has also been very effective as a ball-carrier too.
Homecoming for East Helena
The Broncs and Vigilantes face off for the first time on Friday night.
Last Friday, Tyson Bauder threw for 159 yards and ran for another 82, including a 64-yarded in the Broncs’ 44-13 win over Stevensville.
East Helena was on the losing side of a 35-0 contest at Whitefish. However, they won their first game two weeks ago against Browning and are looking for win No. 2. Kaeben Bushnell has been a consistent contributor for East Helena, along with Jack Taylor, Cole Richmond, Hayden Wright and Braden Howell. It’s also going to be homecoming for East Helena and kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
A win would clinch Hamilton an undefeated season in Southwest A, earning them the division championship. Their remaining three games (at Ronan, vs. Libby, at Columbia Falls) are all non-division games.