BUTTE — The East team held off a late rally from the West to win 28-22 in Saturday night’s 73rd annual Montana East-West Shrine Game at Bob Green Field on the campus of Montana Tech.
The West scored first on one-yard touchdown run by Missoula Sentinel’s Rylan Ortt, who will be playing for Montana State University in the fall. The PAT, though, was blocked. Ortt’s touchdown run was set up by an East fumble inside its own 5-yard line.
On its ensuing possession, the East was forced to punt. West’s Camron Rothie, however, muffed the punt, which was recovered by the East. On the following play from scrimmage, the East got on the scoreboard with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Lewistown’s Mitch Norslien to Fairfield’s Derek Simmons.
The East added a second touchdown in the first half, an 8-yard run by Fairfield’s Ryder Meyer, to take a 14-6 lead into the halftime break. The East took the opening possession of the second half and marched deep into West territory. Norslien then hit Simmons for a 15-yard touchdown, the duo’s second scoring connection of the game.
“I don’t know if he had two touchdowns for us the whole time this year and then he had two touchdowns in the Shrine Game. Pretty cool,” East head coach Les Meyer joked of Simmons, whom he coached at Fairfield.
The West, though, wasn’t going to go quietly. On the back of Kalispell Flathead’s Blake Counts, the West marched down the field before Counts plunged into the end zone to cut the East lead to 21-12.
After forcing a pair of punts from the East, the West needed to mount something offensively. Near midfield early in the fourth quarter, West head coach Mike Cutler dove into his bag of tricks to get the offense going. Charlo’s Landers Smith took a fake punt on fourth down and rumbled 47 yards down to the East 5-yard line. That set up a four-yard touchdown pass from Ortt to Columbia Falls standout Colten McPhee, cutting the East lead to 21-19 with 12:06 to play.
Norslien and Meyer, though, weren’t finished with their big evenings. Norslien hit Meyer up the seam for a 39-yard touchdown with 6:40 remaining to extend the East lead to 28-19. Again the West would answer. A long drive set up a 41-yard field goal by Whitefish’s Carver Gilman, cutting the deficit to 28-22. However, the East would recover the ensuing onside kick and would run out the clock.
“I knew that we would climb back in it,” West head coach Mike Cutler said. “The East did a great job. Hats off to them. … It’s easy to get caught up in the game and stuff like that, but the purpose of the game is really what it’s all about. I’m extremely proud of the group.”
“Our defense played awesome. The West had some dudes. They have Ortt, Counts, Colten McPhee,” Ryder Meyer said. “They just had some dudes. For our defense to be able to step up and make plays when we needed to, that’s a testament to our coaching. … Really proud of our defense and they played great.”
Norslien was named the 2019 Montana East-West Shrine Game MVP with his three scoring tosses. Simmons was given the offensive MVP for the East and Billings West’s JJ Lindsay earned defensive MVP. For the West, Kalispell Flathead’s Jaden MacNeil was named the offensive MVP and Hamilton’s Michael Golden earned defensive MVP honors.
“Ryder Meyer kind of threw my name out there for MVP before and I was thinking, ‘Oh I don’t know,’ but as we start playing, toward the end of the game I was kind of like, ‘Man, I wouldn’t be too surprised it if happened.’ And what do you know?” said Norslien. “Definitely couldn’t have done it without the offensive line, the receivers. Ryder made a heck of a play, Derek Simmons, there were a lot of guys out there making plays and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Norslien and both Les and Ryder Meyer pointed to the success of the offensive line as one of the driving forces to the East’s victory.
This marks the third consecutive win for the East in the series and it now leads the all-time series over the West 41-32.