MISSOULA — The Missoula Sentinel Spartans haven’t had to close out a game late in the fourth quarter in nearly three weeks — and that one ended with a loss.
But the Spartans (3-1) stood tall in the fourth quarter with a late touchdown and interception to secure a 41-30 win over the Butte Bulldogs (2-3) on Thursday at Missoula County Stadium. They earned their first two-game winning streak of the season.
“We spent a lot of time on having the right mindset and embracing those situations,” Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. “When you practice it and implement it and see kids use it in a tight game, it’s a good feeling for them and builds confidence.”
Quarterback Rylan Ortt finished with three rushing touchdowns and a pair of passing scores. His final touchdown run — 4 yards — completed a 65-yard drive with Elias DeWaters out one drive after Butte had pulled within 35-30.
“We just fought through adversity very well,” Ortt said. “We knew that they weren’t going to give up. We just had to keep going at them and keep grinding.”
Blaise Meriwether had two interceptions in the second half, including one on fourth down in the final minute of the game to seal the win. The interceptions came after he was beat on a couple plays earlier in the game.
“A big part of football is being positive and coming back,” Meriwether said. "It’s not the actions that happen; it’s how you bounce back that matters.”
Butte quarterback Tommy Mellott was picked off four times although he appeared to dissect Sentinel’s defense at other points.
Sentinel jumped out a 14-0 lead. Bridger Deaton intercepted Mellott on the third play of the game and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown. On Sentinel’s first offensive drive, Ortt ran a quarterback keeper for a 29-yard touchdown on fourth and 3.
Butte tied the game with a pair of Bo Mortenson 1-yard touchdown runs. The second score capped a 49-yard drive that began after Marcus Garcia had a strip-sack of Ortt that Greyson Mandic recovered.
After Ortt hit Parker Stevens for a 39-yard touchdown to give Sentinel a 21-14 lead, Ortt ran for a 12-yard score the first play after back-to-back interceptions. On third and 5 at Butte’s 9-yard line, Brendon Hill had his pass to Ortt intercepted by Kale McCarthy. On Butte’s first play, Caden Messer intercepted a Mellott pass that was tipped, setting up Ortt’s score.
“They did a great job all night long answering after we did something positive,” Butte coach Arie Grey said. “Our kids battled. We gave ourselves chances. … We got to do a better job of when we get that momentum keeping it. They stayed composed. They put drives together. It was pretty impressive.”
In the second half, Mellott hit Kash Kelly for a 35-yard touchdown two plays after the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs.
Sentinel responded again as Ortt connected with Nick Germer on a bubble screen he took 52 yards for a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Mellott dissected Sentinel’s defense on an 86-yard drive capped with his 1-yard touchdown run to pull within 35-30. The Bulldogs didn’t get any closer.