There were flashes of great play throughout the contest and the offense consistently moved the ball. But Tommy Mellott spoiled Belgrade’s introduction into Class AA Friday night at Naranche Stadium.
The Butte High quarterback, who committed to play at Montana State University in July, threw five touchdown passes to lead the Bulldogs to a 46-20 season-opening victory.
Four of those scores came in the first half as Mellott exploited some mismatches in the secondary. The senior threw for 251 yards prior to halftime en route to finishing with 332.
“He moves in the pocket well. He throws a great ball. Some of the touchdowns that he threw we were right there, but we just didn’t make the play and they did,” Belgrade coach Eric Kinnaman said. “You’re going up against a future MSU quarterback and he proved it tonight. He’s pretty darn good.”
While no one was happy with the loss, Kinnaman noted the team was encouraged with its performance in the first game at the AA level.
“I think the coaches had some good messages after the game and we’re not completely disappointed. You don’t want to lose, you don’t play the game to lose … I think the kids are happy with the way they competed I would say,” he said. “But we’re not just out there to compete. We want to win, so at the same time they’re disappointed because we didn’t win.”
Butte High tallied more than 500 yards of offense and scored on its first three possessions of the game to take a 20-0 lead. Mellott threw touchdown passes to Quinn Sullivan, Banner Cetaro and Cory West during that span and then added another in the second quarter.
Kinnaman noted his defensive unit struggled at times communicating against the Bulldogs’ no huddle offense, which led to some breakdowns in the secondary. But the Panthers’ offense managed to consistently move the ball too and tallied 341 yards.
An interception halted a promising first drive and then John Mears finally got Belgrade on the scoreboard with a 39-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Dyson Cheney later added a 16-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper, and eventually finished with a team-high 99 yards rushing. Cheney also threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Tate Bowler in third quarter to cut the deficit to 33-17.
But the Panthers shot themselves in the foot several times with penalties and negative plays.
“The style of offense that we’re running a two, three, four-yard loss is really going to kill your momentum. So any negative plays, whether it be a penalty or a loss of yardage, that really hurt us,” said Kinnaman. “We would drive the ball and then we would put ourselves in a second and long or third and long situation.”
That was the team’s worst self-inflicted wound following Bowler’s touchdown. Alex Casas picked off Mellott on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Belgrade had great field position at Butte’s 20.
But a pair of sacks and a penalty quickly moved the offense out of field goal range, and then the Bulldogs blocked the punt on fourth down. That led to Mellot’s fifth touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 40-17.
“That was huge because we could have pulled closer than what we had,” said Kinnaman. “When you go backwards and then you get a blocked punt and they score off that blocked punt, that’s tough.”
Still, the mood was positive afterwards as Belgrade prepares for its home opener against Helena High.
“We’re where we need to be. I’d like to see it a little bit better from the kids. I’m never satisfied as a head coach because I think our kids can play better and do better, and I think they feel the same way,” said Kinnaman. “We’re right there. Wish we could have done just a little bit more though.”
Butte 46, Belgrade 20
Belgrade 0 10 7 3 - 20
Butte 20 13 0 13 - 46
But - Quinn Sullivan 48 pass from Tommy Mellott (Casey Kautzman kick), 10:16
But - Banner Cetaro 31 pass from Mellott (kick failed), 4:50
But - Cory West 13 pass from Mellott (Kautzman kick), 1:33
Bel - John Mears 40 FG, 6:55
But - Kameron Moreno 2 run, (kick good), 5:45
Bel - Dyson Cheney 16 run (Mears kick), 4:50
But - Ryan Neil 20 pass from Mellott (kick failed), 3:34
Bel - Tate Bowler 31 pass from Cheney (Mears kick), 4:03
But - Sullivan 18 pass from Mellott (Kautzman kick), 10:25
But - Kobe Moreno 2 run (kick failed), 4:49
Bel - Mears 24 FG, :59