(Note: Anaconda beat Butte Central 28-27 for the first time since 2006 on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 at Bulldog Memorial Stadium. The ‘Heads erased a 27-0 lead in the fourth quarter and 27-6 lead with 3:39, scoring the final of their four TDs with :33 seconds left on the clock. Eric Boyd to Cory Stanberry’s two-point conversion capped the scoring. Boyd ended the game with an interception at midfield. The following is how I found it odd that the 1992 and 2012 games, which ironically finished with the same score, were similar in so many ways.)
Anaconda’s remarkable 28-27 miraculous win against Butte Central two weeks ago may as well not even been played. Not because the outcome wasn’t the biggest comeback win, arguably, in Anaconda High School football history, but because the writing may have been already on the wall.
Let me set the backdrop …
In 1992, the Copperheads lost a heartbreaking 1-point, 28-27 comeback to a hungry Butte Central squad in the heat of the Central A playoff run. Names like Ethan Trent, Ike Heaphy, Mark Moreni, Mark Matosich, Tom Sawyer, Cory Heffernan, Wes Graham, Darren Shelton and Scott Parrow, among many others, were leading the Copperheads past the Maroons with three minutes left in the game in then first-year AHS head coach Allen Green’s first game against the archrival at the helm.
Central was led by a scrappy, undersized quarterback and names such as Cam McQueary, Mike McLaughlin, Brodie Kelly, Zach Murphy, Jeff Raimundo, Dan Foley, Jeff Hartwick and Brian Doherty.
BC drove the length of the field twice capped by a clutch TD pass and two-point conversion to McQueary with less than 30 seconds on the clock to take their first lead of the game.
Anaconda wouldn’t die, however. On the next play from scrimmage, Heaphy completed a quick slant to Parrow who then pitched a perfect lateral to a streaking future state championship and still school record-holding sprinter, Trent, who took off down the Central sidelines some 80 yards untouched.
After Trent blew by the Central defense, a phantom whistle came in to mark Parrow down where he caught the ball saying his knee was down before the pitch. Video evidence would prove otherwise.
With the win, BC and Dillon, who tied Anaconda atop the league standings with a 5-2 overall mark, moved on to the State playoffs leaving Anaconda as the odd team out. That year, the Central A only allowed two teams in the playoffs, making the loss to BC an even bitterer pill to swallow.
Now that I have the storyline set, it’s back to the Friday night miracle. I said earlier the game was destined to end leaving everyone with a glazed look in his or her eyes.
Before the game, Butte historian Pat Kearney, who also doubles as the play-by-play announcer for the Maroons on the radio, reminisced about the 1992 matchup, saying he was spotlighting the game at the halftime of his broadcast.
He didn’t realize at first I had a front row seat to what we Anacondans recalled as the “clock game” during my own senior year at Anaconda High. Why the clock game? Well, similar to Friday night’s near glimpse into how the clock can run and not run at odd times no matter where you are on the road in high school football, 92s game at Bulldog Memorial will be forever known that way as the official game clock mysteriously “malfunctioned” several times during BC’s final two drives.
Nonetheless, the Maroons, who later went on to lose in the state championship game 41-22 to Sidney (one of the most dominant teams of all time in Montana who were in the midst of seven straight Class A titles from 1987-93) won the game where it mattered, and has done so seemingly at will since then, posting a 19-7 record against their archrival since Don Peoples Jr. took over for Central.
As the game started, my color guy on Anaconda High radio broadcasts on KANA 580 AM, Kyle Moore, saw former assistant coach for both Central and Anaconda, RJ Olson, sitting below us. He asked the former coach to join me for the halftime show in order to give his take on the game.
Olson saw something special in Anaconda that night even being down 21-0. He said he liked how physical they were in the middle and had playmakers all over the field. Olson said it was his first game at Bulldog Memorial in “years” — a stadium he said held a special place in his heart.
You see Olson grew up near the stadium. On Friday nights as a child, Olson would go to both Butte High and Central games with his father and cheer them both on, similar to what he was doing that night.
During the interview, Olson kept referring to Anaconda as being the more aggressive of both teams. He also hinted that he didn’t believe the game was over by any means.
I’m not going to lie, I thought he was nuts. Even though I think RJ is one of the most brilliant offensive minds around — one who was responsible for installing the offense for the 2006 Copperhead squad who I still believe has the most remarkable comeback of all time in the 28-27 win over Polson in the first round of the Class A playoffs — I also thought he must have came to the game straight from the local watering hole. Not only does he know how to break down teams to the bare bones by watching one half of football, he was also one helluva quarterbacks coach, mentoring the likes of Anaconda’s Tristan Spehar, Matt King and, not to mention my color man, Moore.
Who was I to question him, though? I changed the line of questioning to talk about his volunteer work bringing the Montana East-West Shrine Game to Southwestern Montana and Bulldog Memorial again this summer.
He also lamented on how he has become fond of working in Anaconda for Century Link, speaking of the friendships he’s treasured over the past 14 years.
I ended the conversation, sent the broadcast to commercial and gave the guy I’ve come to respect a big handshake. I thanked him for stopping by and said, “You don’t really believe we’re getting back in this do you?” He said without any hesitation, “Hey, they look good to me. I like what they are doing.”
Two quarters later, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Anaconda erased a 27-0 deficit in the fourth quarter and 27-6 deficit with just over three minutes left, similar to the time it took for Central to do the same in ’92.
Who was I to question Olson, especially since he has done it all and seen it all at Bulldog Memorial.
And yes, back in his heyday as a prolific passer standing at a modest 5-foot-10, 140-pound gunslinger for the Maroons and eventual wide receiver at Carroll College, he was the original Copperhead killer.
The same guy who hinted a 21-point lead from his alma mater wasn’t safe Friday was the same guy who engineered that come from behind victory in ’92, and the spotlighted member of Kearney’s halftime show without his knowledge.
And just like that night 20 years ago, Friday’s game showed 28-27 with 0:00 gleaming on the endzone clock. Only this time, Anaconda boys were the victors.
Like I said, the game didn’t even have to be played. Destiny brought us all back together to see yet another remarkable game in the biggest rivalry in the state.
Both teams experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that night. But if you were a high school football fan, there was no beating that game.
The jinx and ugliness is over
The grin on my good friend Tom Sawyer’s face on the field afterwards said it all. After all these years, he remembered walking off that same field in ’92 with a sense of bewilderment. Except this time he walked off with his head held high abreast his sons Braedon and Tommy, there with dad and mom, Angie, and sure to remember every moment just as he relived the heart wrenching loss from his senior year.
For me, I couldn’t wait to search out my “boys” — a group of seniors who I coached in basketball during their middle school years at Fred Moodry. I hoisted 260-pound senior lineman Joey Orrino in the air like he was a toddler and hugged and congratulated all the other ones I could find in the collection of parents, players and fans. Then I found Eric Boyd, who instantly lit up when he saw me. I picked that young man up and told him how proud I was of them all for doing what they did, and for doing it the right way.
Last year, those same boys didn’t think much of me after I called them out for some ugliness prior to the 2011 game at Mitchell Stadium. This year, they won it with heart and class. I preached to them that they didn’t have to act like thugs to win a football game.
And on Friday, they produced. They completely buried any further discussion of the 2011 game in my book, and at the same time put up a “W” in the left hand column.
Allegedly, a man associated with the Maroons who was a former coach at AHS said to some of the boys and an assistant coach at halftime, “it’s time to start up the busses,” when trailing by so much.
Well they did, only they had to wait a few quarters and one snap once in victory formation to do so.
What’s even more impressive about the win is this rivalry will probably never be played at Bulldog Memorial ever again. It’s rumored Central will play all their home games at Tech starting next year, leaving Anaconda being the last winner of the 86th meeting at the venerable stadium.
And I can’t wait to relive it again one day with my own kids.
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