By George Ferguson
Almost 12 years ago to the day, the famed Ole Goat was returned to the trophy case in the west foyer of the Havre High School gymnasium. It hasn't been back since.
Tonight, the Havre Blue Ponies will try to bring the goat back to Havre when they take on the Great Falls High Bison at 7:30 p.m. at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls.
Havre has earned the chance at getting the Ole Goat trophy - which signifies basketball supremacy between the two schools - for the first time since 1998, by defeating the Bison 80-73 in Havre on Jan. 9. On that night, junior swingman Cory Brothers shattered the Havre High school single game scoring record with a scintillating 51-point performance.
While he wasn't the Ponies' head coach in 1991, Havre head coach Mark West knows the sentimental importance of the trophy and has had goats on the brain this week.
"We are definitely excited to go to Great Falls with an opportunity to bring the Ole Goat back to Havre," West said. "I think these kids are very excited about this game and I think they are really starting to understand just what this trophy means to our school and the town of Havre."
However, there are plenty of implications stemming from this game for West and his team besides the famed trophy.
"I am also looking forward to this game because I am hoping that it is going to be similar to tournament-type atmosphere," West added. "It is the perfect time for this game because it will give us a chance to play a game with something on the line and get some of that pressure-type atmosphere under our belt before the divisional tournament."
While Brothers is looking forward to having the chance to be part of the team that can bring the goat back to Havre, he was quick to point out just how important this game is in the Central A Conference standings.
"It would be something very special to be the team that got the Ole Goat back," Brothers said. "But this game is huge for us because if we can get a win we will have a real shot at finishing in first place in our conference. That would be really big for us."
With a lot at stake for both teams, West is fully expecting a true battle tonight. Both teams are coming into the Bison Fieldhouse hot at the moment. The Ponies (9-7) are winners of four straight games, while the Bison (5-10) are coming off an 85-79 upset over their crosstown rival, the CMR Rustlers, on Tuesday night.
"Great Falls High is coming into this game with a lot of momentum," West said. "I think we also have built up a lot of momentum. I think this promises to be a very exciting game."
Havre's win over the Bison in January was sparked by Brothers' incredible night. If the Ponies are to pull off another upset, West believes that the Ponies will have to be equally adept at shooting the basketball.
Havre must also slow down the super-hot Brian Lynch, who scored a season-high 36 points against the Rustlers on Tuesday night. Lynch hit the Ponies for 19 points in the first meeting between the two teams.
"We have to defend Lynch and Josh Saunders very well because they are two outstanding guards," West said. "If we can do that and take care of the little things, I think we will be right there to the end."
Those little things include consistent execution on the offensive end as well.
"We are going to have to be very patient on offense," West said. "We need to take good shots and really make their match-up zone work to our advantage."
With all the hype surrounding the game, it would be easy to get caught up in it. But Brothers and his teammates aren't allowing themselves to. They have business to take care of and an opportunity to seize.
"We are really focused right now," Brothers said. "We know that we have a chance to be part of something special and we have stayed focused. We didn't overlook Chinook and I think we are ready to go out and play this game."
Said West: "This is a great opportunity for these kids. They have a chance to make some history and to play a special part in this rivalry. It already means a lot to us to have beaten the Bison once this season. I just hope that we can go down there and play well and we'll see what happens."
Havre and Great Falls High will tip things off at 7:30 p.m. at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.