By George Ferguson
The year was 1991 and while the nation was captivated by the breakout of the Persian Gulf war, the city of Havre saw the Ole Goat trophy returned to the halls of Havre High School for the first time in many years.
The goat was gone a year later and hasn't returned since, but tonight the Havre Blue Ponies will try to take the first step in returning the traveling trophy to Havre as they host the Great Falls High Bison at the Havre High gymnasium.
The Ponies (4-4) must beat the Bison twice in order to reclaim the trophy that has is awarded to the winner of teams' annual series. And while tonight's contest is a crucial game for the Ponies, head coach Mark West is also fully aware of the mystique of the goat.
"Trying to get back the Ole Goat is one of our season goals," West said. "It isn't the most important goal of our season, but we have talked about it. The kids understand what it means and it is important to this team. We would love to be the team that brings it back to Havre, but having to beat them twice is going to be very difficult."
Beating the Bison just once will be tough for a Havre team coming into tonight's tilt in a major shooting slump.
The Ponies shot the ball extremely poor in a 65-52 loss to Malta last Saturday. In fact, Havre really hasn't shot the ball well from the perimeter since its win over Harlem in late December.
"We are just not executing our offense very well right now," West said. "We aren't shooting the ball well, and I think the kids have lost some confidence because of it. But we also aren't rebounding well or getting the ball inside. Hopefully, we can come out of it and get things going."
While one of Havre's goals concerns the Ole Goat, veteran Great Falls High head coach Larry Lucero is much more concerned with how his team is playing at present time than the future of the Ole Goat.
"We haven't talked about the Ole Goat much," Lucero said. "We don't really worry about trying to win a trophy in the middle of the season. We are just hoping that we can play better basketball than we have been playing so far this season."
So far this season, Great Falls hasn't been playing all that badly. The Bison, who were picked to contend in the Class AA, enter tonight's contest with a 2-3 record, but are coming off of a 64-37 pounding at the hands of cross-town rival CMR.
Lucero is hoping that tonight's game can be the beginning of a turning point for his team.
"We have three games in a row this weekend," Lucero said. "So it is going to be a tough week for us. We are just hoping that we can start playing better basketball because we have been struggling lately."
Like Havre, the Bison were positively frigid from the outside in their last game. CMR used an aggressive zone defense to force the Great Falls into a 15-56 shooting performance.
And, one of the things that West feels like his team is doing well - is playing defense. He knows that they will have to be very sharp tonight against a Bison team that boasts two outstanding scorers.
Senior guard Brian Lynch is averaging 23.0 points per game while senior swingman Cody Gillespie is averaging 15.3 a game entering tonight's battle. Both players present a major challenge for West's defenders.
"We will start out in man, but we have added some wrinkles in our defensive scheme to try to slow down Lynch," West said. "If we can play good defense and slow the tempo down I think we are going to be OK."
West also believes like rebounding and taking advantages of mismatches will be key factors if his Ponies are to have success tonight.
"We definitely have to hit the boards better than we have been," West said. "I think we matchup well with them inside, so if we can control the boards and get some opportunities inside, I think we will give the Bison some problems."
Tip off for tonight's game between Havre and Great Falls High is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High Gymnasium.