HELENA -- For the first time in 12 years, Flathead High football has beaten Helena High.
The Braves, coached by former Capital High great Kyle Samson, edged No. 2 Helena 21-20 Friday night at Vigilante Stadium. It was the Kalispell gridders first win over the Bengals since 2005, breaking a 10-game losing skid to HHS.
Flathead, which stood sixth in the standings prior to the game, improves to 6-3. Helena's six-game win streak comes to end, as the red-and-white slips to 7-2 on the season.
“Physically we just got beat up tonight, on defense they really worked us over,” said Helena High coach Tony Arntson.
The Braves defensive unit is coached by a couple of Arntson proteges in former Bengal stalwarts Matt Upham and Sean Blomquist.
The visitors’ go-ahead touchdown took place late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 20-14, the Braves drove down to inside the Bengals 10-yard yard. Then Jaden McNeil took a wildcat snap and sprinted 7 yards into the end zone to knot the score at 20s.
With 5:25 left on the clock, Flathead kicker Alex Coulter booted his third PAT of the night for a one-point lead, and the deciding margin.
As it turned out, the kicking game helped make the difference, since the home team missed both of their extra-point attempts.
The opening quarter, which was highlighted by a drive-stopping interception by Helena’s Caleb Ferguson, ended in a scoreless tie.
The Braves drew first blood, on a 1-yard plunge by big Blake Counts, with 6:38 left in the second period.
Helena High's next possession stalled when a fake punt was unsuccessful. However, minutes later the home team reached pay-dirt on a dazzling 37-yard scoring bomb from quarterback Kaleb Winterburn to Grady Koenig.
After the break, Anthony Jones scored for Flathead on a 3-yard strike from Taylor Morton, with 9:08 left in the third stanza.
With the Kalispell group leading 14-6, Helena’s answer to William “The Refrigerator” Perry – 240 pound lineman Caeden Suero – carried the ball for a pair of big gains to keep a scoring drive alive.
Suero’s efforts took the ball to Flathead’s 6-yard line, where Winterburn capped off the drive with a keeper of his own. Then a successful 2-point conversion run by Koenig got the Bengals even at 14-14 with 6:06 left.
A combined sack by Suero and Jack Kanta helped bring another Braves drive to an end.
Early in the final frame, a huge punt return by Zach Spiroff and a clutch catch by Ray Trudeau, helped set up Winterburn's 21-yard touchdown dash. When the Bengal signal-caller dove across the goal line, Helena had its’ first – and only – lead of the night, 20-14.
But then it was mostly Flathead after MacNeil’s score and HHS turned the ball over near midfield with about three minutes left.
Flathead handed the ball to the 5-11, 200-pound Counts, who proceeded to make three first downs and run out the clock.
Counts led all rushers with 112 yards, while Helena’s Kyle Tabbert gained 72 yards.
Morton and Winterburn passed for 184 and 174 yards, respectively.
“We just didn’t make the plays; we dropped a couple balls, we had a few misalignments, and mentally we did not play well,” Arntson said. “Defensively we played a good first half, but in the second half, not so much.
“But give Flathead credit -- they came to play, and they played hard.”