HELENA -- On a snowy, freezing-cold night at Vigilante Stadium -- sparked by a defense that recorded six turnovers and quarterback Kaleb Winterburn's three touchdown plunges and a scoring strike -- Helena High trounced Billings West 42-7 during the first round of the Class AA football playoffs.

The victory by No. 3 Helena (8-2) advances them to next week's semifinals against crosstown No. 5 Capital High, which upset No. 4 Flathead on the road 24-10.

"We did not let the weather hinder our performance, we stuck to our game plan and scored when we needed to," said Winterburn, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 134 yards and rushed for 64 yards.

After the game got started a half hour late due to icy road conditions that slowed down West's long bus ride, a pass breakup by Helena's Alex Johnson halted the Bears' opening drive on a fourth down attempt at the Bengals' 28-yard line.

On West's next possession, Helena's Connor Nash recovered a fumble at his own 37. HHS drove 63 yards to crack the scoreboard, on a 23-yard strike from Winterburn to Ray Trudeau, with 20 seconds left in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, another Nash fumble recovery set up the host's next score, by Grady Koenig, on a 45-yard scamper to the house.

With 5:55 left in the stanza, after Zach Spiroff returned a punt 40 yards to West's 10-yard line, Winterburn's dive made it 18-0. On the ensuing possession, Johnson picked off Bears' QB Alex Bruns at midfield. And then with 2:12 remaining before the half, Winterburn crashed into the end zone again, followed by Koenig's 2-point conversion run, as the red-and-white took a 26-0 lead into the locker room.

Koenig started the second half where he left off, with a big 55-yard kickoff return to West's 30. Moments later, teammate Kyle Tabbert sped for a 12-yard TD, with Jacob Howell posting the 2-point conversion, to give Helena High a 35-0 advantage.

The Bears finally got on the board with 2:42 left in the third, on Brun's 1-yard plunge. West's quarterback finished at 13 of 30 for 160 yards and two interceptions.

West was able to temporarily halt the host's onslaught when Trudeau -- after a catch and run for about 60 yards -- was stripped of the ball on his way to the end zone, which the Bears recovered at their 15.

Helena's final turnover was Nash's third fumble recovery of the game, which is believed to be a school record.

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Winterburn's third TD, with Koenig's run converting, closed out the game's scoring.

Billings' Cade Nelson led all rushers with 106 yards, followed by Koenig's 89 yards.

"I have to give our O-line all the credit, the Hoggies do a heck of a job opening holes up front for us, and allows our playmakers to make the big plays," Winterburn said. "And what about that defense, giving up just seven points in a double-A quarterfinals game? They deserve a whole bunch of credit, too."

West coach Rob Stanton said the results were "obviously not the final outcome" that they wanted.

"Turnovers were a big factor, you can't beat a good Helena team with that many," said Stanton, whose father, the late Jim Stanton, coached Helena Cathedral High back in the day. "They created some of them, but we gave them a couple, too, which results in the final score we had we had tonight."

Curt Synness is on Twitter @curtsynness_IR and can be reached at curt.synness@lee.net or curt52synness@gmail.com


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