By George Ferguson
Havre High head football coach Troy Purcell was thinking about a lot of things as his team headed to Livingston Friday night. But winning the Central A Conference championship didn't cross his mind. He knew he had to focus on the game at hand.
However, when the dust settled and the Ponies got the 35-0 victory they needed over the Running Rangers, they were also greeted with a nice surprise.
Thanks to the Belgrade Panthers' upset victory over Lewistown, the Ponies laid claim to the Central A Conference title for the first time in several seasons.
"We are very happy with how things worked out," Purcell said. "This is the first conference title in Havre in a little while and the kids should be very proud of that."
"It's a crazy game in how some things work out," Purcell added. "Last year we were 5-3 and missed the playoffs and this year we go 5-3 and win the conference championship."
As for the game in Livingston on Friday night, Purcell was a little concerned about an upset-minded Livingston team that hadn't won a game all year. But the Ponies, behind a solid offensive night from Justin Kegel and Steve Heberly, and a stingy performance from their defensive unit, were able to shut out the Rangers.
"We played a solid game against Livingston," Purcell said. "We didn't do anything fancy, but we went in there and did the things we needed to do to get a victory."
The Ponies started off with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Justin Kegel. Later in the first quarter, Kegel hooked up with speedy wideout Steve Heberly for a 62-yard TD reception to give the Ponies a 13-0 lead at the end of one period.
In the second quarter, Kegel connected with tailback Levi Briese on a 9-yard touchdown reception that gave the Ponies a 20-0 halftime lead.
Havre continued its defensive dominance in the second half and also scored on a 26-yard pass play from Kegel to Heberly. Havre would tack on one more score in the fourth period. This time it was Briese again on the receiving end of a 30-yard Kegel strike. That final TD pass was Kegel's fourth of the night.
Kegel completed 14 of 19 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, as well as his first-quarter rushing touchdown. Heberly led all receivers with eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Because of Belgrade's 27-8 upset over Lewistown, the Ponies receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs and have a week off.
They also get two full weeks of practice to prepare for their second-round matchup with the winner of the Butte Central-Bigfork first-round playoff game Saturday in Butte. The Ponies will host the winner of that game on Nov. 2 at Blue Pony Stadium.
Purcell says the break will be an advantage for his team.
"We are giving the kids the next two days off and then we'll get back to work," Purcell said. "Having a first-round bye will be big because we can give all our kids time to heal and get ready for whoever we will play."