By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Big Sandy Pioneers and Chester Coyotes won't have to wait until 2004 to renew the most heated rivalry in Northern C football after all. The two teams will hook up tonight in Big Sandy in the first round of the 2003 Class C football playoffs.
The second-ranked Pioneers roll into the game with a ton of momentum and a perfect 8-0 record. Included in those eight wins is a 46-20 thumping of the Coyotes back on Sept. 26 in Chester.
Despite the victory, Pioneer head coach Scott Chauvet knows that this is post season football and is taking nothing for granted.
"We have not been in this situation in a long time at Big Sandy," Chauvet said. "We went to the playoffs last year, but we were the team having to travel and play a top seed. Now we're the top seed so things are a little bit different."
Both teams come into tonight's matchup having reached the playoffs in 2002.
Big Sandy dropped an opening round contest to Belt last season, while Chester was defeated by the Power-Dutton-Great Falls Central Titans. But that was last year, and according to Chauvet, things are different this season for both teams.
"We have nine seniors on this team and that helps a lot with the situation that we're in," Chauvet said. "I think our kids are really focused and determined and they know what lies ahead."
"And Chester is a veteran team too," Chauvet added. "This isn't their first time in the playoffs either, so it will be interesting to see how these kids react to this game."
While the Pioneers have yet to be truly tested this season on the field, the Coyotes have responded to adversity all season in order to make the playoffs.
Despite the fact that Chester finished fourth team in the Northern C division, it owns a solid 6-2 record, with its only losses coming at the hands of the division's two powers in Big Sandy and Belt.
"Chester is a very good football team and they are very well coached," Chauvet said. "Even though we beat them this season, I know that Coach (Jim) Graham will have his team very prepared and ready to play. They are an experienced team and they know what it takes to win football games."
Prepared is exactly what both teams will have to be tonight. The Pioneers come into the contest averaging more than 50 points per game. Their defense has also been equally impressive, allowing just 11 points per contest. The defensive side of the ball is where Chauvet feels his team will have to be especially sharp.
"We have been very solid defensively all season and we will have to be again against Chester," Chauvet said. "They have a very solid backfield and Travis VanDyke is a dangerous receiver. But in reality we want to force them to throw the ball because we feel like our secondary matches up very well. If they get their running game going, that will keep our offense off the field."
Keeping the Pioneer offense off the field will most likely be priority number one for the Coyotes as well.
Big Sandy has two of the state's top rushers in senior running back Skylar Pearson and quarterback Gage Brumwell. They also have a dangerous tight end in senior Mason Ophus.
"Offensively, we have to get the ball in the hands of the kids that got us here," Chauvet said. "If we can execute on offense and our kids stay poised like I think they will, then I think we have a good chance in this game."
The game between Big Sandy and Chester will kick off at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Big Sandy.