Bozeman Gallatin beats Missoula Big Sky in program’s 1st-ever trip to the Garden City | High School Football

MISSOULA — Hunter Chandler has coached inside the Missoula County Public Stadium before, but Friday was his first time doing so as the head football coach of Bozeman Gallatin.

The Raptors were playing their first-ever game in Missoula during the program’s third year of existence. They added to the historical trip by collecting their first-ever win in the Garden City as they scored a 46-6 win over Missoula Big Sky in the Class AA season opener for both teams.

“Year three in our system, second group of seniors, more time in the weight room, I think it’s paying off now,” Chandler said after the win. “They busted their butts all offseason in the weight room, and I think that made them a tight knit group. We have some talent too, so I think we have a high ceiling but also a low floor if we don’t perform and show up. Great win, but we’ve got a lot of things to clean up.”

Chandler, who coached at Bozeman during their 2019 state championship run, led the Raptors to a 1-6 mark in 2020 and increased that to 4-6 in 2021. Last season included a 13-3 win over Big Sky, but this year’s game was a far cry from that dogfight as the Raptors put up 407 yards of offense on 53 plays, with 220 yards coming on the ground and 187 through the air.

Senior running back Bryce Mikkelson, a three-year starter, rushed 10 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns, which went for 6 and 55 yards. He did all that in the first half as Gallatin built a 35-0 halftime advantage. Wes Donaghey added seven carries for 71 yards and a 9-yard score, while Kyle Mounts rushed five times for 35 yards and a 2-yard score.

Quarterback Garrett Dahlke completed 13 of 16 passes for 164 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Evan Cherry caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 29-yard score, and Quinn Clark had three receptions for 71 yards, including a 21-yard score.

“Bryce did a great job of running the ball well. He’s bigger and older, and man, he runs the ball hard,” Chandler said. “Our offensive line did a great job not allowing a lot of penetration. Garrett back there at QB, I think he’s pretty special, and he managed the game well.”

While the Raptors lit up the scoreboard, they had multiple short fields. They scored 14 points after an interception by Clark at the 10-yard line and a fumble recovery by Cherry at the 21-yard line, and they added 17 points after turnovers on downs.

Eagles coach Matt Johnson challenged his young team by going for it on fourth down four times in their own territory, but they didn’t convert any. While the scoreboard said it was a 40-point loss, it didn’t feel like it was that lopsided to him, especially when factoring in that his team entered the game with only six players who had any starting varsity experience.

“Our rawness showed at times,” he said. “Our inexperience showed in certain places. We were outmanned a little. But I can’t complain. We had good efforts. Our kids battled all the time. I’ll take that. It’s something to build on. Tell them, ‘Hey, if you have good effort, we can coach that.’ If it’s that we’re dogging it, it’s tough to coach effort.”

Big Sky continued to battle in the second half. Quarterback Drew Martins punched in a 5-yard touchdown run to pull within 46-6 in the fourth quarter. That was set up by a deep pass to Colter Ramos, who picked off Dahlke in the first half.

Martins completed 8 of 18 passes for 38 yards and two interceptions in his debut. He ran nine times for 25 yards as the Eagles finished with 92 yards of offense on 40 plays.

“Our QB is pretty green, and I thought at the end he was still coachable and learning from it and understanding what was going on, so I think there’s some good things to come,” Johnson said. “Sophomore corner Mason Fulford showed me he could play. He was in good position for an interception, but (Clark) just out-lengthened him. I see the potential in these guys. We just need to get them to start believing in themselves.”

Big Sky hits the road next week to play at Billings Skyview, which suffered a 27-0 loss to Kalispell Flathead on Friday. Gallatin returns home to host Flathead.

This was the Raptors’ only scheduled trip to Missoula. Perhaps they’ll find themselves returning the Garden City looking to make some more history this fall.

“Maybe we’ll be back here if we see Hellgate, Big Sky or Sentinel in the playoffs,” Chandler said. “Hopefully we get that chance down the road.”

.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.