BY George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It is a well known fact that the Havre High football team hadn't tasted defeat until last weekend.
But as the Ponies prepare to host archrival Lewistown in a statewide televised game Saturday night, they will look to anything to get the sour taste of losing out of their mouths. And nothing would be sweeter than thumping the Eagles in a key conference game.
The fifth-ranked Ponies are a little testy as they enter Saturday's Central A showdown with a 5-1 overall record, following a stunning 16-14 loss at Belgrade last Friday night.
That loss puts Belgrade in the driver's seat to capture the Central A conference championship, while the Ponies will have to win out and hope the Panthers stumble on the way in. The best chance of that happening may come on the final night of the regular season when Belgrade visits Laurel.
Still, Havre can't think about Belgrade losing, the Ponies must focus only on what they can control and hope for a little help.
"We were in this position last year," said Havre High head coach Troy Purcell. "We lost at Lewistown and we ended up having to get some help. Our primary goal is still to win the conference championship. Now we just have to win out and hope somebody beats Belgrade, but our goals haven't changed."
And the attitude of the Pony players hasn't changed either, despite the tough loss. The Ponies racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense and the defense only surrendered 16 points to a potent Belgrade offense. Havre also only had 20 yards of penalties, which had previously been the Ponies' only achilles heel.
"The kids are not down at all," Purcell said. "They have no reason to feel bad about that loss. They know they played well enough to win and they are now just focusing on Lewistown. I think they will be really fired up to go on Saturday night."
The fact that the Ponies must now try to rebound against their biggest rival would also seem to add to an already adverse situation. Lewistown (1-4) has dominated the Central A rivalry as of late.
The Golden Eagles have beaten the Ponies soundly in each of Purcell's first three seasons, including a 35-7 thrashing in Lewistown last October. But the Eagles seem to be a different team in 2003. They suffered heavy losses from graduation and come into Saturday's matchup fresh off of back-to-back drubbings at the hands of Belgrade and Laurel.
But don't tell that to Purcell. He only knows that Lewistown has owned his Ponies in recent memory and he is taking nothing for granted.
"People tried to tell me last year that (Lewistown) wasn't very good and they dominated us," Purcell said. "I think when Havre and Lewistown play records, don't matter. We are going to have to be very ready to go Saturday night."
Purcell has plenty of reasons to be concerned. Even though the Eagles graduated three all-conference players in Derek Taylor, Doug Longfellow and speedster Chris Otto, they are a senior-laden team led by experienced quarterback Bob Goodwyn and tailback Phil Rinaldi.
Perhaps the Eagles biggest threat on on offense may be speedy wideout and kick returner Nick Kamp, who is second in the Central A conference in receiving behind Havre's Daine Solomon.
"Offensively, Lewistown is very difficult to prepare for," Purcell said. "They have a lot of formations and they run and pass well, so our defense will have to be ready to play."
Havre's defense has been the key to the Ponies' success thus far. However, because Havre possesses the most potent offense in Class A football -including the state's leading passer in Gary Wagner and the leading receiver in Solomon - the defense has been a little underappreciated.
Hopefully, people will begin take notice of how stingy the Ponies' defense has become. Havre is yielding an average of just over 10 points per contest in six games and they allow no more than 280 yards of total offense per game.
While Purcell has full confidence in his team's defensive capabilities, he admitted that the Eagles defense may be the biggest question mark.
"Lewistown always plays us tough defensively," Purcell said. "They have traditionally been really strong on that side of the football and I expect more of the same."
"Last week Belgrade played us tough defensively and we still got our numbers, but we just didn't execute in the red zone," Purcell added. "This week, I think we just have to be better when we get the opportunity to score and everything will be fine."
Making things fine and righting the ship is exactly what Purcell hopes his team is prepared to do.
"These kids have great attitudes and they are extremely excited to play this game," Purcell said. "The fact that this is our biggest rival and the game is on TV, if you can't get up to play in this game then you shouldn't play football. I know our kids will be fired up and ready to go."
The game between Havre and Lewistown will kickoff at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at Blue Pony Stadium. The game will be televised live on Omega Television and it can also be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.