By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
When a coach reaches the final game of the football regular season, you usually hear them refer to the past two months as a long season, or a hard season.
But as the Havre High football team prepares to host the Browning Indians as part of senior night and parents night tonight at Blue Pony Stadium, HHS head coach Troy Purcell doesn't have time to look back, but he is trying not to look too far ahead either.
Purcell's fourth-ranked Blue Ponies enter tonight's contest with a stellar 7-1 overall record and have already clinched a playoff berth.
However, the Central A conference championship is still up for grabs and the focus of the Central A title will shift to Belgrade tonight. If the visiting Laurel Locomotives can upset Belgrade, the Ponies will win the Central A title.
If the Panthers win, Havre will finish second and will host Sidney next week in the first round of the 2003 Class A playoffs.
With all of those things out of his hands, Purcell has made staying focused the focal point of this week's preparation for the Browning game.
"It is really tough not to look ahead," Purcell said. "It is tough for the coaches and the players. But we need to be focused and we want to be very sharp this week against Browning because all of the other stuff is out of our hands.
"We just need to stay positive and try to play a solid football game against Browning and we'll see what happens after that."
Not only will the Ponies be focused on Browning tonight, but they will also honor the five seniors, who will be playing their final regular season football game at Blue Pony Stadium.
Daine Solomon, Chris Peterson, Terry May, Shane Howard and Matt Boucher are the five remaining seniors and are the first full class to go through the Troy Purcell era at Havre High. All of them have been an integral part of the Blue Ponies success in 2003.
"Senior night is always a special night for us," Purcell said. "These kids have worked hard over the years and it is a night when we, as coaches and players, honor them for what they have done and accomplished in our program."
One of the seniors that will be leaving Havre High shortly has had a huge impact on the HHS football program over the last three years.
Daine Solomon is in the midst of a brilliant season at wideout for the Blue Ponies. He leads the Central A conference in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown catches.
"Daine is one of the top two receivers that I have ever had the privilege of coaching," Purcell said. "He is a tremendous football player and he has been a pleasure to coach. He is just a phenomenal kid to be around."
Thanks to Solomon's stellar season, the Blue Ponies enter tonight's matchup with the Indians on a tremendous roll. Since suffering their only loss of the season at Belgrade back on Sept. 26, the Blue Ponies have steamrolled through the rest of their schedule.
As of last week, Havre possessed both the No. 1 ranked offense and No. 1 ranked defense in the Central A conference. The Ponies are averaging more than 370 yards of total offense per game and the defense is yielding just nine points per contest.
Aside from Solomon's staggering numbers, junior Scott Robinson is right behind him in receiving and is also among the league leaders in rushing. Junior quarterback Gary Wagner is having an all-state campaign. Wagner not only leads the Central A, but all of Class A in most passing categories.
All of those numbers spell trouble for the visiting Indians. Browning is winless in 2003 and has won just twice in its last 24 games under third-year head coach Robert Miller.
The Indians have had to find replacements for their two most exciting offensive players from last season in graduated quarterback Kellan Hall and wide receiver Maurice St. Goddard. Senior Chris Dienes (5-9, 160) has occupied the quarterback position for most of the season and the Indians do have a strong tailback in Jerry Racine (5-10, 165) to take some of the pressure off of the passing game.
However, Browning ranks near the bottom of the Central A conference in both scoring and total defense and those two factors should play right into the dominant Blue Ponies hands tonight.
"We just need to go out there and do the things that have made us successful all season," Purcell said. "We need to be sharp and execute our offensive package and we need to stay focused."
"If we can execute on offense and play solid defense then hopefully everything will work out," Purcell added.
The game between Havre and Browning will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium and can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.