Local Players Help West Win Montana Shrine Game

Strong first half propels West to fourth straight Shrine Game victory over East

By John Letasky for 406mtsports.com
The West's Cohen Kastelitz of Kalispell Glacier rushes past the East's Kyle Mounts of Bozeman Gallatin during the Montana East-West Shrine game at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium in Billings on Saturday. | AMY LYNN NELSON, Billings Gazette

BILLINGS — On this night, the West was the best.

Kash Goicoechea of Kalispell Glacier scored two touchdowns and ran for 169 yards on 12 carries to lead the West to a 48-20 victory over the East in the 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game Saturday night at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium.

Goicoechea’s efforts helped the West to its fourth straight win in the series that raises money for the Shriners Children’s hospital in Spokane, Washington. 

The West narrowed their all-time series gap with the East to 41-36 with the victory in which it led 28-0 at intermission.

“It feels great. We set the tone early,” said Goicoechea of earning the win before a crowd of 2,600. “We had ups and downs, but finished strong. It was a great overall performance by everyone.

“Everyone did their jobs, the O-Line and receivers and everyone did their part and came together.”

After the game, Goicoechea was named the Roger Silvernale Most Outstanding Player.

Kash Goiceochea of Glacier High School football pictured in Kalispell on Nov. 27, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The West scored on its very first possession on a six-play drive when Goicoechea busted through for a 57-yard touchdown at the 12:02 mark of the first quarter. Mason Kelch of Whitefish made the conversion kick to help the West take an early 7-0 lead.

They then forced a turnover on downs on the East’s next possession and scored again eight plays later when Joey Sandberg of Missoula Big Sky ran it in from four yards at 5:33 of the first quarter. Another conversion by Kelch had the West up 14-0.

Goicoechea said it was nice to get the big early lead, but he was confident in his teammates’ abilities entering the contest.

“I personally didn’t think of the score,” he said. “If we come out and do our job and execute, good things will happen.”

The West added two more touchdowns in the first half as Carter Kraft of Helena scored on a three-yard run at 6:15 of the second quarter and Goicoechea added a 70-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds left in the half. The 70-yard burst came two plays after Kelch intercepted a pass to give the West possession.

Kelch made the PAT kick after both scores and the West led 28-0 at the break.

West coach Pat Duchien of Florence credited the win to his players and his coaching staff for coming together during practice in Butte leading up to the game.

“They had a phenomenal week of work,” he said. “You can’t ask for anything more.”

“The difference of the game was the family atmosphere of the team and the boys coming together as a family.”

The East fought back in the third quarter with two touchdowns as quarterback Adam Balkenbush of Billings Central hit Rocco Lencioni of Bozeman with a 42-yard pass and a PAT kick by MacLain Burckley of Billings Senior to draw within 28-7 at the 13:36 mark of the third quarter. With just over two minutes left in the third quarter, Red Lodge’s Thomas Buchanan added a one-yard run and Burckley kicked the PAT to pull the East within 14 to trail 28-14.

But the West answered back shortly into the fourth quarter when Daniel Sirmon of Missoula Sentinel scored on a 15-yard run. Kelch’s conversion kick pushed the lead back up to 35-14.

The East didn’t give up and Buchanan found Burckley for a five-yard score at 4:40 of the fourth quarter, but the two-point pass attempt failed as the West led 35-20.

The West scored two insurance touchdowns when Lucas Lant of Hamilton scored on a 40-yard interception return with 42 seconds remaining in regulation to make the score 42-20 after Kelch’s kick. Tyler Abbott of Florence added an 11-yard pick-6 with 28 seconds on the clock. The PAT kick failed when it clanged off the upright.

East coach Rob Stanton of Billings West said the first half was the difference in the game.

“They knocked us around a little bit,” said Stanton. “After halftime we started to make plays in the second half. In the first half, they took it to us.”

“I’m proud our kids came back. We had a couple chances and turned the ball over. That’s the way it goes in all-star games.”

Overall, the West rushed 32 times for 337 yards and the East ran the ball 33 times for 93 yards.

Sandberg contributed 94 rushing yards on four carries for the West. Balkenbush was the East’s top rusher with seven carries for 53 yards.

West quarterback Kee Christiansen of Dillon was 10 of 20 passing with one interception for 97 yards. For the East, Buchanan was 13 of 21 with one interception passing for 186 yards. Balkenbush was 7 of 13 passing with three interceptions for 138 yards.

Cohen Kastelitz of Glacier caught four passes for 53 yards for the West. Lencioni had nine receptions for 137 yards for the East. Chase Crockett of Glendive had two catches for 68 yards.

Left to right, Rocco Lencioni of Bozeman (East Offensive MVP), Isaac Keim of Kalispell Glacier (West Defensive MVP), Kash Goicoechea of Glacier (Most Outstanding Player), Cohen Kastelitz of Glacier (Offensive MVP West), and River Wasson of Great Falls CMR (Defensive MVP East) pose after Saturday’s Montana East-West Shrine Game at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium. | JOHN LETASKY, 406 MT SPORTS

Goicoechea was tickled with his Most Outstanding Player Award.

“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches.”

Lencioni was the East offensive player of the game and Kastelitz was the West offensive player of the game.

The East defensive player of the game was River Wasson of Great Falls CMR. The West defensive player of the game was Isaac Keim of Glacier.

Duchien, who stepped down at Florence in the offseason after leading his team to the past three Class B football state titles, said he’ll always remember this game.

“It’s always good to close the chapter on a positive note,” he said.

Duchien said the whole week, including raising money for the Shriners hospital. was special.

“That experience this week is something I get to take with me the rest of my life, until I hit the grave,” he said.

Stanton echoed the thoughts of Duchien.

“We’ll forget about the loss tomorrow and realize we raised money for the kids.”

“The kids had fun and bonded and the kids made lifelong friends. It was a great experience and the Shriners made money for the hospital.”