HELENA — This Friday’s crosstown football playoff will be the sixth meeting between Helena High and Capital in the postseason, and their fourth matchup in the AA semifinals. The Bruins own a 4-1 record in the playoff series.
The teams split their first two postseason meetings, with Capital winning the 2000 semi’s contest 41-3, and Helena taking the next one the following year 31-24 in the quarter finals in double overtime.
The next three intra-city playoffs were all semifinal tilts. In 2006, CHS came from behind for a 20-17 victory. The next year, the Bruins prevailed 35-21, and then their last postseason matchup took place in 2011, with Capital posting a 27-0 shutout.
Multiple players from those games went on to collegiate careers – one even made the NFL – and several will be on the sidelines Friday serving as assistant coaches.
This week’s Replays’ edition takes a look back at those five crosstown playoff tilts, courtesy of the IR archives.
In their first-ever meeting in the postseason, the Bruins routed Helena 41-3, powered by Don Saisbury’s 236 rushing yards and three touchdown runs. This was a year before the three-round format, as the victory advanced the undefeated and defending champion Bruins into the State chipper.
Capital led 14-3 at halftime, before a 27-point second half. CHS’ offense racked up 550 total yards, while their defense posted three interceptions and held the Bengals to 145 total offensive yards.
Bruin quarterback Tyler Emmert completed 11-of-16 passes for 187 yards, four of which went to Jared Kuntz for 80 yards and a pair of TD receptions.
The Bengals started out with their best drive of the game, marching downfield sparked by John Forba’s 22-yard run. Kicker Ben Chaet booted a 37-yard field goal, which turned out to be HHS’ only points.
The Bruins then reeled off 41 unanswered points, beginning with Saisbury’s 18-yard race to pay-dirt. His other two jaunts went for 25 and 65 yards.
Emmert’s scoring strikes to Kuntz went for 35 and 30 yards. The Bruin’s other tally came on a 31 yard run by Luke Bazacas.
Coach Mark Samson’s Bruin gridders then successfully retained their crown with a 35-6 triumph over Flathead. The win was the brown-and-gold’s 24th straight, tying the (then) AA record shared by Missoula County and CM Russell.
The Bengals won a thrilling double-overtime victory in the first round of the playoffs, which at the time was only their second win (both coming that season) over Capital in 14 years.
After four quarters and an OT of back-and-forth action, Helena quarterback Seamus Molloy went around the right side on fourth down and across the goal line. The extra point by future NFL kicker Dan Carpenter gave Helena a 31-24 lead, as the Bruins took their turn.
Both defenses dominated much of the game, and the Bengals’ “D” was never better than on Capital’s final attempt. After pushing CHS back into fourth-and-14, Helena’s Brant Birkeland’s interception ended the game.
After a scoreless first quarter, coach Tony Arntson's HHS gridders took a 10-0 halftime lead, on receiver Tyler Swanby’s 15-yard touchdown on a double reverse, and a 32-yard field goal by Carpenter.
A 50-yard dash to the house in the third stanza by Seth Roope, the game’s leading rusher with 81 yards, extended the Bengal cushion to 17-0.
But then the Bruins came roaring back.
CHS receiver Jock Bovington caught three passes from quarterback Kyle Samson for 101 yards in the second half, one of which being a 57-yard scoring strike late in the third stanza. In the final frame, Samson – who wound up with 241-yards passing – added a 5-yard TD run to get within three, 17-14.
Late in the game, the Bruins drove down to Helena’s 4-yard line with 16 seconds left, but a false start pushed them back and they settled for a 23-yard Dane Murphy field goal for the tie as time expired.
In the OT, Capital’s Bazacas with a 5-yard run, and Helena’s Ben Simpson on a 6-yard pass from Molloy, sent the game to a second overtime, prior to Molloy’s winning score.
Molloy – later an NAIA All-American linebacker for national champion Carroll College – finished the night with 184 total yards and three touchdowns.
Helena (9-3) then edged Flathead in another double OT in the semis, before dropping a 35-10 decision to CM Russell in the title game.
After turning the ball over six times and falling behind Helena 17-0, Capital scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to complete a scintillating comeback.
It would be the second of coach Pat Murphy’s Bruins’ five straight appearances in the chipper.
The Bruins powerful running game racked up 247 yards and they never deviated from their game plan. CHS kept hammering away, as the winning score came, fittingly, on a run.
Matt Williams, who finished with 99 yards rushing, burst through a hole up the middle with 2:43 remaining and ran untouched 25-yards for the game-winner. O-linemen Abe Smith and Danny Sebastian opened up the hole.
The first half was filled with turnovers and penalties with the only score coming after an interception by HHS’ Caleb Evans, setting up a 31-yard field goal by Sean Kelly.
The third stanza started out with another interception, by Josh Stuberg, putting the ball in the Bru-crew’s red zone, as the Arntson-coached Bengals (8-3) capitalized on a four-yard TD run by quarterback Ryan Fetherston.
Fetherston added another score 1:30 later from his linebacker position when he picked off a screen pass and returned it 35-yards to the house.
The Bruins mounted their first scoring drive late in the third, culminating with Seth Long’s 18-yard receiver sweep TD on the first play of the fourth.
As the momentum swung in favor of the Bruins, Helena’s offense sputtered, as they were unable to record a first down during the final frame.
The Bruins tacked on their second score midway through the period, when QB Jared Hunt connected with freshman Matt Miller on a 35-yard jump ball in the end zone on fourth down.
Hunt finished the night at 8 of 12 for 113 yards, with Miller – who went on to a record-setting career at Boise State – gathering game-highs of three catches and 73-yards receiving.
Fetherston, who led the Bengals with 65 yards rushing, went on to play defensive end for the University of Montana, wearing the Griz’s coveted No. 37 jersey. He presently serves as a Bruin assistant coach.
Capital posted 358 total offensive yards to Helena’s 173. Following Williams in the rushing stats were CHS’ Kruze Banderob with 74 yards and HHS’ Eron Krpan’s 53.
The Bruins (10-2) went on to beat Billings West 31-17 in the title game, for the first of their three consecutive State crowns.
Capital took an early lead on the third play of the game, when Casey Lamping broke loose for a 72-yard touchdown, behind a block from Anthony Hogan and setting the Bruin wheels in motion for a 35-21 win. Lamping also tallied the brown-and-gold’s final score in the third period, finishing with a game-high 89 rushing yards.
Coach Arntson's Bengals quickly tied the game at 7s when Matt Upham scored on a quarterback keeper. But CHS answered right back with a couple TDs – on runs by Michael King and Nick Retz, for 54 and 12 yards – taking a 21-7 advantage after the initial quarter.
The two teams traded scores in the second stanza, on a 10-yard strike from Hunt to Miller, and a 4-yard run by HHS’ Nick Trapp. The Bruins led 28-14 at halftime and would hold that 2-score advantage the rest of theway.
Trapp closed out the game’s scoring in the final frame with another 4-yard sprint, set up by Steven “The Diesel” Foster’s 54-yard run.
Bengal QB Matt Upham posted the game’s top offensive output, totaling 166 yards, 93 passing and 73 rushing.
HHS’ 21 points was just 1 less than the 22 total points the vaunted Bruin defense had permitted in their nine wins during the regular season.
The next week Capital (12-1) won their eighth successive game (on their way to an AA record of 33 straight) and ninth State championship, 30-27 over Billings Senior.
Hunt, Matt Reyant and Tom Quinn – who all played in the ‘07 playoff – will be on the sidelines this Friday as CHS assistants.
Six years ago, Capital’s defense held rival Helena to one yard rushing and 39 total offensive yards on the way to 27-0 semifinal whitewash at Carroll’s Nelson Stadium.
Capital’s big line and fast linebackers shut down Nate Caldwell, the AA’s leading rusher, holding the Bengal tailback to just 35 yards on 17 carries.
Bruin Gunnar Brekke scored the first points with a 10-yard dash to pay-dirt. Brekke, running mostly for the Wildcat position, finished with a game-high 115 yards, while backfield mate Brice Burton had 46 yards and a pair of TDs.
Quarterback Riley Sampson hooked up with wideout Connor Lamping for Capital’s other touchdown. Sampson completed seven of 14 passes for 98 yards, with five of those tosses for 88 yards going to Lamping.
When Helena (10-2) was forced to air it out in the second half, defensive ends Caleb Kidder and Levi Dawes had two sacks apiece and pressured HHS quarterback Taylor South with four hurries.
Kidder (UM) and Brekke (MSU) were later friendly rivals in the ‘Cat-Griz games.
Dylan Simac was the red-and-white’s top receiver, posting three catches for 23 yards.
The win vaulted Capital (12-1) into the chipper versus West, where coach Murphy’s Bru-crew garnered the program’s 11th state crown.