BUTTE — Quarterback Jace Stenson's three-touchdown performance against Great Falls on Friday in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs was a key facet in lifting the Bulldogs to a 35-21 win and into the quarterfinals.
It's territory Butte hasn't entered since its run to the 2019 championship game. Stenson, now in his final year with the Bulldogs and his second as the starting signal caller, was just a freshman that year but he was watching closely as Tommy Mellott helped orchestrate one of Butte's most memorable seasons.
"I was always looking up to Tommy," Stenson said. "He's a great role model and just a great person to look up to."
With the Bulldogs (5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Western AA) now set to travel to Helena Capital to face the unbeaten Bruins (9-0, 7-0), Stenson will now get a chance to stamp his name on Butte's program as it looks to pull off a massive upset. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Vigilante Stadium.
Coming off one of Butte's most convincing wins of the season — and it's first road victory this year — Stenson believes his team is in prime position to contend with the juggernaut that is Capital.
"This is the perfect time for us to start peaking," Stenson said. "Going against Capital this week, they're gonna be a great challenge to see what we can truly do. We've got nothing to lose. They're obviously a great team, but I'm ready to get the game going."
Stenson has thrown for 23 touchdowns and 2466 yards this season and is also Butte's top rusher with 651 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Butte head coach Arie Grey said Stenson being mentored by Mellott as a freshman and Blake Drakos as a sophomore has been paying off.
"He's learned from the guys before him but he's put his own little twist on things and that's what you want," Grey said. "You want a young man that's gonna come out and can play and compete and that's what Jace does. He just plays the game the way it's meant to be played. I love watching him play."
Stenson will continue to lean on the receiver tandem of senior Cameron Gurnsey and freshman Hudson Luedtke — who have combined for over 1000 yards and 11 touchdowns — and junior running back Trey Hansen who has piled up 10 rushing scores.
Looking at the Bruins' stats this season, it's clear there is no shortage of weapons on a team that has outscored its opponents 358-97 as is looking to avenge a quarterfinal loss to Billings West last season.
"You look at them, I don't know if they have a weakness," Grey said. "They run the ball well, they throw the ball well, they play good run defense, good pass defense, they're great in special teams. That's what they do. Great program that does things the right way."