Trailing by two scores early, Glacier (11-1) leaned on its strength up front to pull away against Helena High (8-4), beating the Bengals 29-14 on Friday in a thick fog at Legends Stadium in the Class AA football semifinals.
The Wolfpack won the game on the offensive and defensive lines, controlling play in the trenches in the second half.
Down 14-7 at the break after four first-half turnovers, Glacier got some juice early in the third quarter when senior defensive lineman Jaxen Hashley got pressure on Bengals quarterback Kaleb Winterburn, forcing a fumble that the Wolfpack recovered on the fourth play of the half.
Working with a short field for the first time all game, Glacier took advantage by leaning on its big offensive line, running the ball on eight straight plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown from quarterback Tadan Gilman to tie the game at 14-14 midway through the third quarter.
“It felt good,” Glacier junior running back Drew Turner said. “We kind of struggled in the first quarter and then Tadan got a score and the offensive line started going, we started pumping and it was nice to get going and doing what we do normally.”
The Wolfpack forced a punt on the next Helena drive and went to the ground again, hitting two screens for big yardage before Turner burst free for a 14-yard gain to the Helena 6-yard line.
Bottled up that close to the end zone, after two runs up the middle didn’t work, Glacier went into its bag of tricks, designating Hashley as an eligible receiver at offensive tackle, then running play action to the right only to toss back to Hashley who dove into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown to give Glacier the lead for the first time all game.
“It’s a fun play that we did in practice, we finally got it in the playbook and it worked,” Hashley said. “It’s one of those ones where you’re an offensive lineman and you catch it and just try to run. Not too much strategy. You catch it and run towards some grass.”
The Wolfpack capped the scoring play with a fake kick on the extra point, as backup quarterback Brady Peiffer pulled the hold and turned to his right to find Patrick O’Connell open in the end zone for a two-point conversion and a 22-14 Glacier lead.
That extra point put pressure on the Helena offense, which had relied on the run all game but was struggling to move the ball after the first quarter. Stopped in three plays on its next drive, Helena converted a fake punt to extend the drive but was stonewalled again three plays later. It was the same issue the next drive as well, with the Bengals stopped on the run before hitting on a big play action pass for 34 yards, then failing to pick up 10 yards when it went back to the run.
Glacier capped the scoring on its final drive, running for first downs on each of its first four plays to drive to the Helena 13-yard line. After a penalty backed it up, Glacier ripped off a 9-yard run to get back inside the 10-yard line and scored on the next play, another run, before it was called back for holding. Gilman made no doubt about the touchdown two plays later, running in from 14 yards to give Glacier a 29-14 lead with 1:03 to play in the game.
Helena drove to the Glacier side of the field with only a few seconds remaining, but a sack ended the contest and sent Glacier back to the state title game for the third time in four years.
“There’s going to be adversity in any big game, any semifinal game like this,” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said. “It’s which team handles it best. I thought that’s exactly what our kids did.”
Glacier fell behind quickly in the contest, looking out of sync as it stalled on its first drive and gave up a 50-yard pass that set up a short Arntson touchdown on Helena’s first drive of the game.
After a three-and-out of its own, Glacier forced Helena to punt only to muff the catch on the return and set up the Bengals with a short field. The defense held on that next drive, forcing a turnover on downs, but the offense lost a fumble on the next play, giving Helena just 19 yards to work with. The Bengals capitalized the second time with another Arntson touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.
Glacier started to find some form shortly after, returning the kickoff into Helena territory. Turner ran for 11 yards on the first play of the drive then housed a 35-yard score on a run up the gut to cut the lead to 14-7. The Wolfpack drove to the Helena 20 the next drive only to throw an interception that killed a scoring chance.
Arntson nearly gave Helena a two-score lead entering the half, ripping off 83 yards on nine carries the next drive to get the Bengals to the Glacier 2-yard line with 35 seconds to play in the half. Facing fourth-and-goal, the Glacier defense pushed Helena back from the snap and forced the next Arntson run outside, where Jackson Pepe came up from his safety position to make a play in the backfield, forcing a turnover on downs with 30 seconds to play before the break.
“That goal line stand, fourth-and-2, that’s the game,” Bennett said. “Our defense believed and got it done. Then at halftime we talked about keep grinding. That’s what that second half was, we ground out a victory.”
Turner finished with 187 yards on 26 carries to lead Glacier and Gilman rushed for 70 yards while going 10 for 21 for 108 yards in the air. O’Connell had a team-high 28 yards receiving for the Wolfpack, Turner had 26 yards on one catch and Pepe had three catches for 23 yards.
Arntson led Helena with 179 yards rushing on 37 carries.
The win sets up a championship game at Billings Senior (12-0) which pulled away from Helena Capital (7-5) to win its semifinal 35-21 on Friday in Billings. The Broncs are the top scoring offense and defense in the state this season.
“I remember the feeling of winning it sophomore year,” Hashley said. “Just the fact of getting there, with all the hard work we put in, is amazing. It feels great, but it doesn’t matter tomorrow morning. There’s one more game left.”
Helena 14 0 0 0 — 14
Glacier 0 7 15 7 — 29
HHS—Ryan Arntson 6 run (Max Morris kick), 5:44
HHS—Arntson 1 run (Morris kick), 0:16
G—Drew Turner 36 run (Cameron Anderson kick), 11:50
G—Tadan Gilman 1 run (Anderson kick), 7:04
G—Jaxen Hashley 5 catch from Gilman (Patrick O’Connell catch from Brady Peiffer), 1:51
G—Tadan Gilman 14 run (Anderson kick), 1:19
First Downs 11 22
Rushes-Yards 46-208 40-266
Passing Yards 113 108
Att-Comp-Int 17-6-0 21-10-2
Total Plays-Yards 63-321 61-374
Punts-Avg 5-37.8 3-44.3
Fumbles 1-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 6-50 6-55
Possession Time 13:56 36:35
RUSHING—Helena, Ryan Arntson 37-179, Kaleb Winterburn 9-29. Glacier, Drew Turner 26-187, Tadan Gilman 13-70, Jackson Pepe 1-9.
PASSING—Helena, Kaleb Winterburn 5-16-0-99, Emmett Buckley 1-1-0-14. Glacier, Tadan Gilman 10-21-2-108.
RECEIVING—Helena, Derrick Olsen 2-57, Keair Adgerson 1-34, Alex Johnson 1-14, Ryan Arntson 2-8. Glacier, Patrick O’Connell 2-28, Jackson Pepe 3-23, Drew Turner 1-26, Ethan Larson 1-13, Jaxen Hashley 1-5.
Glacier reciever Jackson Pepe stretches out as he attempts to haul in a pass during the Wolfpack's 29-14 victory on a foggy night at Legends Stadium on Friday. With the victory the Wolfpack will advance to the state championship against Billings Senior. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)
Glacier's Jackson Pepe rushes upfield on a long kick return during the first quarter of the Wolfpack's 29-14 win over the Helena Bengals in the Class AA semifinals at Legends Stadium on Friday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)
Glacier running back Drew Turner drags a couple of Helena defenders with him as he rushes for a first down during the third quarter of the Class AA semifinals at Legend Stadium on Friday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)