By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre High School football team did what it had to do on Friday night in order to win a second consecutive Central A Conference championship. However, the Laurel Locomotives did not do their part in Belgrade.
While the Blue Ponies blew out the Browning Indians 41-6 at Blue Pony Stadium, the Belgrade Panthers also took care of business and wrapped up their first conference championship by knocking off defending state champion Laurel, 42-6.
"It is a little disappointing that we could not win another conference title," Havre High head coach Troy Purcell said. "That was one of our main goals this season and it didn't work out. But we're excited about where we are right now and we're looking forward to getting the playoffs started."
While the Ponies did not get the help they needed from Laurel on Friday night, they did help their own cause by going out and putting 32 first-quarter points on the scoreboard against a winless Browning team. In the midst of the thrashing, the Ponies also unleashed another offensive weapon in junior Marc Mariani.
Mariani has been a star cornerback for the Ponies all season long, and on Friday night he broke the HHS single-season record for interceptions. Mariani picked off two Chris Dienes passes, which gave him a total of eight for the season. But offensively, Mariani was equally as explosive as he caught two Gary Wagner touchdown passes to go along with his stellar defensive play. He also recorded seven tackles to cap off the night.
While Mariani has been intercepting opposing quarterbacks all season, even he was a little astonished by his offensive output and eclipsing the school's single-season interception record.
"I was a little surprised by the game I had against Browning," Mariani said. "I don't usually put up those kinds of numbers, but I just tried to run good routes. I got open and Gary found me."
"On defense, I am usually really prepared before each game, and from my position I can really read what the quarterback is going to do," he added. "I have just tried to come up and make plays and things have really worked out for me this season."
"Marc has been solid for us all season and he really shined on Friday night," Purcell said. "We're real happy for him to go out and break the school record, and overall he had a huge night for us."
Actually, Mariani's night ended fairly early. The rout began when he and Wagner hooked for a 28-yard TD strike with more than 10 minutes to play in the first quarter.
Senior Daine Solomon also got into the act when he picked off Dienes' first pass of the game just seconds later. Havre scored off of the turnover as Wagner ran in a touchdown from 9 yards out to make the score 14-0 with more than eight minutes to go in the first quarter.
Browning's turnover problems continued on its next possession as Mariani picked off Dienes just as Browning appeared to have some offense going. He intercepted the pass at the Havre 14-yard line and then raced 86 yards for his second touchdown of the night.
Wagner continued to have the hot hand, finding Scott Robinson on a 25-yard scoring pass to push the score to 21-0.
Mariani then capped off his offensive night with a 26-yard TD reception with 19 seconds remaining in the quarter to make it 28-0.
Havre also got on the board one more time in the second quarter when junior fullback Colby Mader barreled his way into the end zone from 4 yards out. That touchdown was set up by Mariani's second interception of the night. Following Mader's touchdown, the Ponies played most of the second string offense the rest of the contest.
"I thought we accomplished everything we set out to do on against Brown-ing," Purcell said. "The kids were sharp and they were focused and we stayed relatively healthy. We also got a lot of the younger kids some valuable game experience, and it is always nice when you can do that."
Aside from Mariani's performance, the Ponies also got another solid outing from Wagner in limited action. Wagner completed 7 of 8 passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball three times for 32 yards and a score.
Backup running backs Jared Weigel and Mark Larson led the Ponies on the ground. Weigel rushed for 40 yards on six carries, and Larson carried the ball five times for 36 yards. Bill Zuelke led a dominant Blue Pony defense with 10 tackles.
Havre's win over the Indians coupled with Belgrade's win over Laurel means that the fourth-ranked Ponies (8-1) finish the regular season in second place in the Central A Conference standings.
Havre will now prepare to host Sidney (5-3) in the first round of the Class A playoffs next Saturday. The winner of that game will then travel to Western A champion Libby for the quarterfinals.
"It would have been nice to have that first-round bye," Purcell said. "But we have had a solid season and we are playing well. We feel good about playing Sidney at home in the first round. We're definitely excited about next weekend."
The game between Sidney and Havre is a rematch of the opening night of the 2003 season when Havre traveled to and defeated the host Eagles 28-14. The first- round playoff game is set to kick off at noon Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
Browning 0 0 0 6 - 6
Havre 34 7 0 0 - 41
Havre - Marc Mariani 28 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner Kick)
Havre - Wagner 9 run (Wagner kick)
Havre - Marc Mariani 88 interception return (kick failed)
Havre - Scott Robinson 25 pass from Wagner (Robinson pass from Wagner)
Havre - Mariani 26 pass from Wagner (kick failed)
Havre - Colby Mader 4 run (Wagner kick)
Browning - Jerry Racine 41 pass from Chris Dienes (pass failed)
Passing - Gary Wagner 7-8-0-109, Jess McLain 2-3-0-7
Rushing - Gary Wagner 3-32, Mark Larson 5-36, Scott Robinson 4-18, Colby Mader 6-25, Daine Solomon 1-9, Craig Kallenberger 1-4, Jared Weigel 6-40.
Receiving - Daine Solomon 3-14, Marc Mariani 2-53, Rick Houim 1-17, Scott Robinson 1-25, Scott Miller 1-4, Mark Larson 1-3.