BUTTE -- No coach wants their team to be labeled a second-half team, but, after a scoreless first half, Helena Capital was able to scrape together a 20-7 win over Butte in the first round of the Class AA state football playoffs behind rushing touchdowns by Dylan Graham and Matt Burton at Naranche Stadium on Friday.
"Our kids love coming here to play because of the atmosphere and the fans and the excitement that they produce here," said Helena Capital head coach Kyle Mihelish. "Butte certainly does it right."
Neither team was able to find the end zone through the first half despite a handful of turnovers. The Bulldogs forced a fumble after Capital’s Burton tucked the ball and ran to the Butte 20-yard line, but they were unable to do anything with it. The Bruins had a much better opportunity after a muffed punt by the Bulldogs, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed them back to the 37-yard line. The Bruins were able to work the ball to the Bulldogs' 9-yard line, but the stout Butte defense held the Bruins on fourth down with less than two minutes left in the first half.
The Bulldogs then charged into Capital territory trying to break the scoreless tie. With two seconds left on the clock, Kasey Kautzman attempted a 51-yard field goal and had enough behind the kick, but he pushed it a little right, leaving the game scoreless after the first half.
"Blowing that 13 point lead in the first game, you just want to come back get a victory in Naranche. This is the funnest stadium to play in," said Helena Capital Linebacker Tyler Little.
The Bruins' first drive of the second half, it was a much different story.
"We talked about it in the half. Big thing we wanted to do was, we knew we got the ball, we said, 'Let's make a big drive. Let's drive it down. Put seven on them and let's play solid defense and maybe we win this thing seven zero,'" said Mihelish
Burton was able to hit Quinn Belcher on a ball that looked to almost be intercepted, setting the Bruins up for a 9-yard touchdown run by Graham moments later to make it 7-0.
"I thought it was gonna be an interception by the corner there and the ball kind of went up on the shoulder pad of the guy and Quinn just kind of grabbed it off of him," Mihelish.
Both teams fought defensively through the rest of the third quarter before a shanked punt set the Bulldogs up on the Capital 35-yard line. The Bulldogs did not squander the opportunity as Blake Drakos hit Ryan Neil on a pass that would find the Bruins' 11-yard line. That pass set up Christian Vetter for the Bulldogs' only score of the night to knot the game at 7-7 with a little more than nine minutes in the game.
Neither team gave in defensively, but a Butte fumble deep in its territory would ultimately be the downfall for the Bulldogs. With the ball on the Bulldogs' 33-yard line, Burton hit Belcher and Tom Carter for completed passes before taking it in on the ground himself from 12 yards out to put the Bruins out in front 14-7.
Capital was able to get the ball back with a few minutes left in the game before stalling out on the Butte 8-yard line with six seconds left. The Bulldogs, needing a miracle, went for a lateral play, but the ball found the turf, and Capital's Talon Marsh scooped it up and scored as time expired to down the Bulldogs 20-7.
I have a lot of confidence in our team," said Burton immediately after the win. "I don't think we've peaked yet. We've showed spurts of it. We just need to keep going."
With the win, the Bruins, the Western AA's No. 5 seed and only road team to win in Friday's first round, will advance to the second round of the Class AA playoffs to take on the Eastern AA's undefeated No. 1-seeded Billings West Golden Bears on Nov. 6.