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Explosive plays lift West over East for fourth consecutive Shrine Game victory

Kash Goicoechea
Posted at 7:29 AM, Jun 16, 2024

BILLINGS — Clutching the Roger Silvernale award as the night's most outstanding player, Kalispell Glacier's Kash Goicoechea was in a position in which he didn't expect to be three hours prior.

But the future Montana Grizzly left no question about his importance or impact Saturday at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium, helping the West All-Stars to a 48-20 victory over the East in the 77th edition of Montana's Shrine football game.

PHOTOS: 77TH MONTANA EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME

"It's huge. I'm really honored," said Goicoechea after the West won for the fourth straight time in the series. "But go West. We had a great, great week of camp, and this is just awesome to see it all the work we put in come together."

Goicoechea rushed for 169 yards on just 12 carries and scampered to two long rushing touchdowns. His first was a 57-yard run to the end zone on the sixth play of the game to give the West a 7-0 advantage.

But he provided a back-breaker late in the second quarter.

With less than 30 seconds left before halftime, the speedy Goicoechea took a pitch to his right, cut through a hole, froze his pursuers with a juke to his left then outraced everyone down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.

That electrifying score gave the West a 28-0 advantage at the break. Goicoechea had 133 rushing yards on just eight carries in the opening half, an average of 16.6 per carry.

77th Montana East-West Shrine Game
The West defeated the East in the 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game at Daylis Stadium in Billings on June 15, 2024.

"That set the tone going into halftime," Goicoechea said. "You're pretty hyped. But all the other touchdowns made a huge impact, too."

And there were several.

After Goicoechea’s first touchdown, the West added to its advantage on its next possession as Missoula Big Sky’s Joey Sandberg found the end zone from 4 yards out for a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

Then, early in the second quarter, Helena’s Carter Kraft carried the ball 3 yards over the goal line making it 21-0.

Despite its halftime deficit, the East found some life in the third quarter.

On its first second-half possession, Billings Central quarterback Adam Balkenbush found Glendive’s Chase Crockett with a bomb past midfield, and on the next play Balkenbush unloaded a perfectly placed 42-yard touchdown throw to Bozeman’s Rocky Lencioni down the right sideline.

Lencioni, a future Montana State Bobcat who had a huge game in his own right with nine catches for 137 yards, said he didn't have to work too hard to make that snag.

77th Montana East-West Shrine Game
The West defeated the East in the 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game at Daylis Stadium in Billings on June 15, 2024.

"I just ran down the field and it hit me in the hands," Lencioni said. "I literally ran down the field and opened my hands."

The East’s defense had a takeaway later in the third quarter, as Froid-Lake’s Mason Dethman helped force a fumble that was recovered by Havre’s Brisbin Reiter near midfield. That led to a 33-yard reception by Lencoini on a deflected pass from Red Lodge’s Thomas Buchanan.

Lencioni then took an inside screen to the 1, and Buchanan scored on a “tush push” run, pulling the East within 28-14 with 2:19 left in the third.

The West was forced to punt on its next possession, but Three Forks safety Colten Hayder made the second of his two interceptions of Balkenbush deep in West territory early in the fourth. Sandberg then broke off an 80-yard run that set up a 16-yard TD run by Missoula Sentinel’s Danny Sirmon.

That gave the West another three-score cushion at 35-14 with 10:50 left.

The East got it back within two possessions with 4:40 left on a short touchdown pass from Buchanan to Billings Senior’s Maclain Burckley, but the two-point try failed and the West held a 35-20 lead.

77th Montana East-West Shrine Game
The West defeated the East in the 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game at Daylis Stadium in Billings on June 15, 2024.

The big plays for the West weren't limited to offense. Both Hamilton's Lucas Lant and Florence-Carlton's Tyler Abbott sealed the game for good by each returning interceptions for touchdowns with less than a minute remaining.

The East turned the ball over six times in the game. The team threw for 324 yards but served up five interceptions.

"We were focused on enjoying the second half with the guys," Lencioni said of the East's comeback effort. "We didn't want to go down like that. The game didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we put up a fight."

The West, which rushed for a Montana Shrine Game record 337 yards, has now won four straight in the series, but the East still owns the all-time lead 41-36.

Aside from Goicoechea's most outstanding player honor, the West's offensive MVP award went to Glacier teammate Cohen Kastelitz, who had a team-high 53 receiving yards. The West's defensive MVP was Glacier defensive end Isaac Keim.

Lencioni was named the East's offensive MVP and Great Falls CMR defensive back River Wasson was the team's defensive MVP.