HELENA -- For the first time in seven years, the Helena High Bengals are headed to the Class AA football championship game.
After falling behind crosstown Capital 7-0 in the first quarter of the Class AA semifinal tilt Friday night at Vigilante Stadium, the Bengals rang up 30 unanswered points.
Photos: Helena High beats Helena Capital in Class AA football semifinals
The Helena High Bengals defeated the Capital High Bruins 30-7 Friday night in a crosstown Class AA semifinal game at Vigilante Stadium in Helena.
The Bengals return to the title game for the first time in seven years, where they will travel to Billings to take on two-time defending state champion Senior on Friday.
The win improves No. 3 Helena to 9-2 on the year, while the No. 6 Bruins’ season comes to an end at 7-5.
“I just loved watching these guys faces (after the win),” said HHS coach Tony Arntson, who will be coaching the Bengals in his fourth chipper, having previously qualified in 1998, 2001 and 2010.
Capital dominated the opening quarter, after Helena quarterback Kaleb Winterburn’s 44-yard run on the Bengals' first offensive play was negated by a penalty.
The Bruins scored on their second possession, highlighted by Seth Schneider’s 41 yards rushing. Sophomore quarterback Bridger Grovom’s 27-yard swing pass to Alec McVey-Touchette put CHS up 7-0 with 2:05 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bengals answered right back, however, when Logan Brown electrified the crowd when he returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the house. Helena High has been struggling with their kicking game, but Winterburn settled that issue when he took a keeper across for the 2-point conversion, and an 8-7 lead.
It was the first of Helena’s three 2-point conversions on the night.
Capital had a nice drive going in the second quarter, deep into HHS territory, until a high snap put the ball back near midfield.
After the punt, a personal foul by the Bruins helped keep a Helena High drive alive. It would be the first of eight Capital personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct calls, totaling 120 penalty yards.
Next, on fourth and 5 at the CHS 41-yard line, the Bengals went for it, and Winterburn and Zach Huth hooked up for a 33-yard catch and run, to the 8-yard line.
After a Helena penalty, Winterburn fired a 15-yard TD strike to Ray Trudeau. The ensuing 2-point toss to Kyle Tabbert put the red-and-white up 16-7 with 2:14 remaining before the half. It turned out to be all the points the Bengals would need.
On Capital’s next possession, a botched long snap on a punt attempt and HHS recovery gave the Bengals the ball at the 12-yard line. Helena quickly scored again, when Winterburn tossed to Trudeau in the end zone, and he wrestled the football away on a 50-50 ball for his second score of the game.
The half ended with HHS out in front 22-7.
After a scoreless third quarter on the muddy field -- highlighted by an interception by Helena's Cooper Beigler -- the Bengals took a two-score lead into the final frame.
Most of the fourth quarter took place on the Bruins' half of the field, as Winterburn scored the final TD on a 1-yard plunge at the 8:15 mark.
Helena’s signal-caller finished 7 for 16 passing for 101 yards, and also rushed for 70 yards.
Schneider was the game’s leading ground-gainer with 121 yards on 22 carries. Grovom -- whose father Ryan was a standout QB for the brown-and-gold -- was 11 of 25 for 81 yards.
“The key was containing Seth, he’s such a great runner, and I thought (defensive coordinator) Scott Evans made some good adjustments to be able to do that,” Arntson said.
The Bengal skipper also credited his O-line, which is made up of Holden Sampson, Brady Grigsby, Blake Nichols, Mark Sullivan and Sean Tuttle.
“We’ve just been very lucky over the years to always have a group of guys that just love the game … they love the offseason, they love to practice, and they love to compete,” added Arntson, whose gridders will meet No. 1 Billings Senior next week for all the marbles.
Capital coach Kyle Mihelish said it was disappointing to “lose your last game,” and tough that the season ends, but that “Helena High played a good hard” football game.
“They made plays and took advantage of opportunities,” Mihelish said. “But I’m proud of our guys and the coaches. When you look at the last three years, us and Senior are the only teams to play in all three semifinals.”