BUTTE -- Asher Croy didn't fully understand the significance of what just happened, he just knew it was important.
Croy, the Bozeman running back who transferred from Huntley Project before the 2019 football season began, stood in a swarm of Hawks fans Friday evening, shaking hands, giving hugs and mostly shaking his head in disbelief.
The Montana Grizzly commit rushed 33 times for 333 yards and three touchdowns as his Hawks spoiled Butte's undefeated season, 49-28, in the Class AA state football championship.
“When I found out I was moving (to Bozeman), I never would have imagined that we would wind up winning state at Naranche Stadium," said Croy. "I’ve never been able to realistically imagine winning state. It’s one of those things you can’t feel until you do it.”
“We knew we could do that to their defense," Croy continued of Bozeman's dominating rushing attack. "They’ve just outscored everybody, but we knew if we held them to a minimum, we could pound the ball on them all night.”
Not even the ghosts of Naranche Stadium, as they're often referred, could slow Croy and Bozeman's offensive line on Friday night. The Hawks rushed for 389 yards and controlled the flow of the game, keeping Butte's high-powered offense on its heels, particularly in the second half.
It wasn't the execution Bozeman coach Levi Wesche imagined, it was even better.
“It wasn’t a special game plan, it was just who we are. We tried to come here and be ourselves, and that’s all we wanted to do. That’s what we did,” he said. “It’s my first one as a head coach, so that’s pretty dang special. More than anything, I’m glad I’m doing the legacy that (former Bozeman coach) Troy Purcell left, justice. He left this program in an unbelievable position, and my only goal when I took over was to make sure we improve every single day and not stand pat.”
The crowd of thousands, mostly donning purple and white, was entertained early, as Butte quarterback Tommy Mellott wasted little time putting the Bulldogs on the board, hitting 6-foot-7 Jake Olson all alone in space on the left sideline for a 53-yard touchdown that gave Butte a 7-0 lead.
Butte's defense forced a three-and-out on Bozeman's ensuing drive and looked set to take advantage of a short field, as the Hawks' punt flew less than 30 yards. But Cory West fumbled the fair catch, and Logan Pailthorpe jumped on it for Bozeman. Croy carried on the next four plays, the final a 29-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-all.
Butte's uncharacteristic play continued on its next drive, where kicker Casey Kautzman pushed a 37-yard field goal wide right.
Bozeman was the first to score in the second quarter, as Wesche elected to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Butte 20. His decision was rewarded with a Jake D'Agostino-to-Kenneth Eiden IV touchdown pass reminiscent of former Bozeman tight end Will Dissly's touchdown in the same stadium seven years earlier.
But Butte answered on a 15-play drive five minutes later, as Mellott found Quinn Sullivan for a 13-yard score that tied the game 14-14 at halftime.
"We knew it was basically 0-0 again. We thought we were playing well, but we were missing a lot of opportunities," said Croy. "We gave up too many big plays, and we knew if we fixed those mistakes we could dominate the second half.”
D'Agostino threw the only score in the third quarter, a 24-yard pass over the left shoulder of Carter Ash in the west end zone, giving Bozeman a 21-14 edge entering the final 12 minutes.
That's when the Hawks flexed their muscles.
D'Agostino found Eiden IV for a 26-yard touchdown on the first play of the final quarter, extending the lead to 28-14. And after Bozeman's offensive line, along with Croy, had been the storyline of the game, it was the defensive line that made arguably the play of the contest.
Camren Spencer sniffed out a screen play, intercepting Mellott and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown, nearly silencing the northern part of Naranche Stadium.
“Oh my goodness. It felt like a dream, let me tell you what. Perfect. It felt like a dream. I can’t explain it," said Spencer, who finished with seven tackles, one for a loss, and the interception returned for a touchdown. “This is awesome. We’ve been working all year for this, waking up at 6 a.m. in the summers. We earned it. We earned it.”
Kobe Moreno scored touchdowns on Butte's next two drives, but Croy answered each with 5-yard scores of his own, cementing the Hawks' fourth football championship this decade.
“This was for Brendan Martin who tore his ACL, this was for McCade O’Reilly, who couldn’t play this season but was a huge part of the team. It’s for all the guys that lost in 2012 and for every other player that lost last year when we got upset in the semifinals," said Wesche. "This is a program thing, not just a this-team thing, and we want to let those guys know we did this for them.”