HELENA -- Trailing Bozeman High by one score with less than two minutes to play in a Class AA state quarterfinal football game Friday, Helena High had an opportunity to tie the game, but a Brady Lang interception of a Kaden Huot pass effectively ended the game, and Bozeman escaped Vigilante Stadium with a 35-28 win.
"I was definitely puckered up a little bit," said Bozeman head football coach Levi Wesche. "These kids have won a lot of games, and the kid that picked that ball off has started every game since he was a sophomore. Him and (Kenneth Eiden IV) probably have more playoff starts than any kid in the history of our school. So these kids getting back to the semifinals again, third year in a row is pretty huge for us as a program."
After a stagnant first quarter, the Bengals and the Hawks lit a few fireworks in the second quarter.
The Bengals opened the quarter with a strip-sack of Jordan Jones by Forrest Suero and Zach Carson, giving Helena the ball deep in Hawks territory. A few seconds later, Huot tagged Raef Miller with a 6-yard pass for a touchdown to make it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Not to be shown up, the Hawks answered immediately. Logan Pailthorpe ran the ensuing kickoff for 91 yards to tie the ballgame 14 seconds later at 7-7.
On the next possession, the Bengals faded three third-and-long situations before running a flea-flicker where Ethan Maxness pitched it back to Huot, who then threw a 40-yard dart to Dexter Tedesco to take the lead, 14-7.
Later in the quarter, the Bengals punted from deep in their territory to put Bozeman on its 32-yard line with less than two minutes left in the first half. The Hawks ran a two-minute drill to perfection that was capped with a 20-yard touchdown run by Jess Wattenbarger to tie the game 14-14 at the half.
"We didn't play very well in the first half. I actually feel like Helena really controlled the first half until maybe the last two minutes," said Wesche. "That two-minute drill for us to get a score at the end of the half really flipped the momentum in the game, gave Jordan (Jones) some confidence moving forward and then we were able to do some pretty special things after that."
The third quarter was a lopsided affair as Bozeman was able to take a two-score lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Eiden IV and a 35-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Pailthorpe.
The Bengals did flash some life early in the fourth quarter. After three pass interference calls on the Hawks, one of which came on a fake punt attempt, Huot found Miller in the end zone on a 3-yard route to bring the score to 28-21.
One possession later, the Hawks took a two-score lead on a 38-yard pass from Jones to Tucker Macbeth to make it 35-21 midway through the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, the Hawks looked to punt in their territory, but Helena's Jack Marcille was able to tip the punt to give the Bengals the ball on the Bozeman 48-yard line. Huot then found Maxness on a touchdown pass a few plays later to make it 35-28 with around four minutes left in the game.
The Bengals' defense held the Hawks to a three-and-out possession and got a gift of a punt, getting the ball back on their 45-yard line with around three minutes left.
The Bengals drove into Hawks territory on three straight completions from Huot to Miller, but with 1:30 left in the game, Huot's pass was intercepted by Lang, effectively ending the Bengals' postseason dreams.
"Helena High came out really strong," said Bozeman senior offensive lineman Jacob Keim. "They're a really good team defensively and offensively, so we're just lucky that we get to go onto the next week."
With the win, the Hawks will move on to face the Billings West Golden Bears in a game that will decide one half of the Class AA state championship matchup.
"For the whole team, it's just super exciting to go back and get another chance at a state championship, but we're going to keep working," said senior defensive lineman Luke Fedyk. "Helena High was a great team, really good team, super physical. Kudos to those guys, but we're super excited to have this opportunity again and we're super blessed to be in this position."