The Missoula Hellgate defense could only bat away so many Great Falls High advances. With its heels digging into its own end of the field more often than pushing the Bison back the other way, a lampooned Knights front eventually submitted to its opponent Friday.
After slugging it out in a near-scoreless feud, Great Falls ran up the score late in the fourth quarter, diving past Hellgate 17-0 at Missoula County Stadium in a Class AA football contest.
A 3-0 game suddenly jumped to 17-0 as Great Falls found the end zone twice in a three-minute stretch just before the game’s final whistle.
Still, 17-0 is a vast improvement over 65-0 – the lopsided score from Hellgate’s Week 1 contest at Helena Capital.
“We came out a little flat against Helena Capital, really flat really, but this week in practice we really sharpened things up and we showed it tonight (on defense),” senior defensive end Kole Swartz said. “We’ve still got to work on playing a full game. We haven’t done that this season so far.”
The Knights’ step forward did come against a team a few steps back from the cream of the AA crop. Great Falls won only one game a year ago – same as the Knights – and was coming off a Week 1 loss to Kalispell Flathead. But the Hellgate defense was constantly thrown into the deep end Friday and, until the final moments of the game, kept its head well above water.
The first half whittled down to little more than a field position battle, with each team’s punter stretching his leg. Each time the Bison (1-1) took the ball, they had a short field to work with and leaned on the Knights’ D to the point of snapping.
But Hellgate (0-2) never did, forcing the Bison to boot the ball deep three times. Unfortunately for Hellgate, that meant starting in the shadow of their own upright time and again.
“I thought (punter) Brad Humphreys did a pretty good job with his squib kicks and we got pretty lucky with a couple of those rolls,” Great Falls coach Matt Krahe said of Humphreys’ low-hangtime, high-rolltime kicks. “Set them right back in there and those long drives, anything behind the 20, it’s hard to score.”
Great Falls’ average starting field position in the first half was a yard past midfield. Hellgate’s? About the 13-yard line.
Yet the Bison couldn’t cash in with any of those head starts. The visitors’ only score before intermission was a 32-yard Humphreys field goal in the second quarter, ending a drive that started at the Hellgate 48.
The Knights had as hard of a time finishing drives as well, turning the ball over on downs twice inside the red zone before the the end of the third quarter. Ironically, both possessions covered better than 60 yards, the only such drives more than 25 yards in the game for the home team.
The most painful of those two for coach R.L. Boyles came after the Knights had carried the ball for 4:30 minutes to inside the 10. Hellgate faced a fourth-and-1 there, but was hit with back-to-back 5-yard penalties for false start and illegal motion. On 4th-and-11, Brayden Frohlich’s pass to the back of the end zone was batted away harmlessly.
“We had movement on the line that got us moved back and we totally had them on the ropes there,” Boyles said.
The Bison stretched their lead to 10 points by converting a similar situation on the other end of the field. With 4:45 to play and facing a 4th-and-15 at Hellgate’s 20-yard line thanks to a false start penalty, Great Falls quarterback Jordan Wilkins found Kessler Leonard floating over the middle. The completed pass gave the Bison yardage for a first down and Leonard’s quick feet bought the Bison the TD to go with it.
Two quick three-and-outs by each team later, Great Falls made it 17-0 when a rushed Hellgate offense threw one into the hands of the Bison defenders. Bostiane Johnstone returned it to the end zone with less than two minutes to play to seal Hellgate’s fate.
Humphreys, who kicked the two fourth-quarter extra points, also rumbled for 109 yards on 22 carries. The Bison had 186 yards of total offense as Wilkins was 8 of 17 passing for 56 yards.
Hellgate had 159 yards of offense, all but 29 of it on those two stalled drives into the red zone. John Dalpiaz rushed for 56 yards and Andy Nemec ran for 40 from his quarterback position.
Frohlich started the game at QB, taking almost all the snaps in the first quarter, before the Knights rotated Nemec in and out. Both the lengthy drives were under his tutelage as he gave Hellgate a running option around the edge.
“The idea is that we have different styles with the two different players. They each have abilities so we try to utilize each of their abilities,” Boyles said. “We went to a two-back set and started running the football (with Nemec) and started having some success.”
Neither did much through the air. Frohlich completed 2 of 11 passes and also had two interceptions. Nemec was 2 of 5, though his completion to Swartz for seven yards in the third quarter was the first caught ball for the Knights in the game.
Hellgate’s only win in last season’s 1-9 campaign came against Great Falls.
Great Falls 0 3 0 14 – 17
Hellgate 0 0 0 0 – 0
GF – Brad Humphreys 32 kick, 5:14
GF – Kessler Leonard 20 pass from Jordan Wilkins (Humphreys kick), 4:43
GF – Bostiane Johnstone 35 interception return (Humphreys kick), 1:36
RUSHING – Great Falls (31-146): Brad Humphreys 22-109, Kessler Leonard 5-27, Walker Ferda 2-9, Jordan Wilkins 2-1. Hellgate (33-151): John Dalpiaz 13-56, Andy Nemec 7-40, Zac Bauer 9-37, Brayden Frohlich 2-11, Zac Martin 1-3.
PASSING – Great Falls: Wilkins 8-17-0 for 56 yards. Hellgate: Frohlich 2-11-2 for 21 yards, Nemec 2-5-0 for 15 yards.
RECEIVING – Great Falls: Leonard 4-42, Ferda 1-10, Keaton Brady 1-4, Humphreys 1-0, Dennis Bercyzk 1-0. Hellgate: Kole Swartz 2-18, Hunter Mahlum 1-10, Paul Wilson 1-8.