BUTTE -- The party is on in the Mining City.
Butte defeated Billings West 35-6 Friday night at Naranche Stadium, advancing from the Class AA state football semifinals to next week's state championship game. It's the first time since 2012 the Bulldogs have played for the state title.
"They have a lot of tremendous athletes," running back Kameron Moreno said of West. "But our defense really stepped up (Friday), we punched them in the mouth early, got off to a great start and finished. I'm pretty proud of my team right now."
Moreno was excellent again Friday, rushing 27 times for 153 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tommy Mellott added 100 yards on the ground for Butte, which totaled 469 yards of offense.
West tallied 360 yards, including 206 on the ground from stellar back Demarcus Carr, but the Golden Bears fizzled in the red zone on multiple occasions to lead to the difference in the final score.
Butte's defense was stifling, allowing only two third-down conversions on 14 tries from the Bears. The Bulldogs also had an impressive seven tackles-for-loss.
"We did awesome, man. The defense really stepped up (Friday) night, and that's how we're going to be next week, too," said defensive back Scout Allen. "We should have had a shutout, we just have to finish, finish, finish. That's our bad not having the shutout, but we played amazing."
The unbeaten Bulldogs wasted little time lighting up the scoreboard Friday night in front of an estimated 3,000 fans, as Mellott and Moreno swiftly moved Butte downfield on the first drive of the game, capping the 17-play, 90-yard drive with a 7-yard pass from Mellott to Peyton Hettick for a quick 7-0 lead.
But West wasn't fazed, and also moved into scoring position, with Carr's 17-yard rush pushing the Bears inside the red zone. But West's offense stalled inside the 10 and settled for a 24-yard field goal attempt, which Spencer Berger pushed wide right.
That momentum quickly paid off for the Bulldogs, as Mellott tossed his second score of the night, a 60-yard bomb to Banner Cetraro on the fourth play of the drive, giving Butte a quick 14-0 lead. Then the Bulldogs' defense rose to the occasion.
Two possessions later, West looked poise to move back into scoring position, but Josh Erbacher's pass to Zach Tallman on fourth-and-5 was intercepted by Mellott at the 6-yard line, keeping the first-half shutout intact. Quinn Sullivan would intercept Mellott on the ensuing drive to give West life, but Moreno sacked Erbacher, one of three Bulldogs sacks, to end the drive.
But still trailing only 14-0 inside three minutes remaining in the half, West again moved into the red zone, where Erbacher found Neil Daly near the sideline, and the receiver turned upfield set to cross the goal line for the Bears' first points. But Butte's Allen caught Daly at the goal line, popping the ball loose and straight into the hands of the Bulldogs' Miles McClernan for a touchback.
"I was way on the other side (of the field) and saw the play was going way over there, so I just pursued and tried to tackle him before he got in and hit the ball out," said Allen, who finished with a team-high eight tackles. "I didn't even know the ball was out until I saw everyone cheering."
"I walked down the sideline, I McGregor-walked," Allen continued, referencing UFC fighter Conor McGregor's famous flexing walk. "That was pretty awesome."
Butte again took advantage, moving the ball to West's 39-yard line with three seconds left, where Bulldogs coach Arie Grey called a timeout to draw up one final play. Moments later, Mellott hit 6-foot-7 Jake Olson in the end zone for a touchdown and 21-0 halftime lead.
"That was awesome. Everyone was celebrating and having a good time," said Allen. "Jake Olson with his monster hands, getting up there and pulling that thing down. That was awesome.
"That sequence was huge, a momentum-changer. Definitely I think (that was the biggest sequence of the game). We needed that, definitely."
Moreno scored both of his touchdowns in the second half, the first a 16-yard score on Butte's first possession in the third quarter and the second a 9-yard score, sealing the game in the final seven minutes.
"It's very difficult (to come from behind against the Bulldogs at Naranche). We have a lot of great athletes, a great offensive line, then punched (West) in the mouth the whole time, so we just ran down their throats, and it's pretty hard to beat with the best crowd in the state," said Moreno.
Erbacher found Tallman for West's lone touchdown on the next drive, a 9-yard passing score, but the Bears missed the point-after attempt to end the scoring.
Erbacher finished the game 14-of-21 passing for 88 yards and a touchdown but was sacked three times. Connor Ryan had four receptions for 41 yards, and Hunter Morse led the Bears' defense with 12 tackles and a pass breakup.
Naranche Stadium remained lit up until late into the evening Friday, as Butte fans celebrated the win. Bulldog fans have been quick to compare this season's unbeaten team to its 2012 state-champion counterparts, which did seem ironic to Allen upon learning the Bulldogs will again host Bozeman for the Class AA state title.
"Oh, it's Butte-Bozeman? Wow. All right. That's awesome. I want to relive that," Allen said of the 2012 championship game, of which he was in attendance. "Let's take it to them. That's who I wanted to win so we could beat them here at home again. We'll see. It will be really fun."
"It's crazy because I looked up to all those guys," added Moreno of the 2012 Butte team. "I looked up to those guys. I listened to the 2012 championship on the radio, I wasn't fortunate enough to be at the game, but it's great to play Bozeman in a rematch for the state championship."