By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Talk about ringing in the new season with a bang. The Havre Blue Ponies did just that on Friday night as they went into Sidney as underdogs and came out looking like big dogs after defeating the highly touted Eagles, 28-14, to open the 2003 Class A football season.
While the season-opening victory did not necessarily surprise veteran Havre High head coach Troy Purcell, the manner in which the Ponies dominated the Eagles in the game's final two quarters may have.
"Sidney is a very strong team and they are big and quick and fast," Purcell said. "And our kids played really well and we were very sharp offensively right out of the gates. It was a real nice win for us, but I expect Sidney will bounce back and we may even see them later on in the season."
To say the Ponies were sharp offensively may be somewhat of an understatement. Junior quarterback Gary Wagner - starting his first varsity game - threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for another score. In all, the Ponies racked up 400 yards of total offense, including Wagner's passing totals and another 139 yards rushing.
"The entire offense played really well on Saturday night," Purcell said. "And for a junior quarterback to step up and play that well in his first start is really impressive."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Eagles struck first on a 6-yard run by quarterback Josh Kringen. The touchdown gave Sidney a brief 6-0 lead after the PAT failed.
Following Kringen's TD run, the Ponies struck back with consecutive big plays. The first came on a 29-yard scoring strike from Wagner to junior wideout Coda Tchida and gave the Ponies a 7-6 lead.
On Havre's next possession, Wagner struck again. This time he hooked up with star wide receiver Daine Solomon. The 24-yard TD pass to Solomon gave Havre a 14-6 lead.
"We found out that we are still a big play offense," Purcell said of the two long touchdown passes. "When we spread a team out like that, we can put points up that quick."
The Ponies' lead did not last long, however, as fullback Gary Melby scored from 3 yards out and then ran in a two-point conversion to knot the game up at 14 at the half.
In the second half, the Ponies' running game and defense closed the Eagles out. Junior running back Colby Mader scored on a 7-yard run in the third period and Wagner ran in another score in the fourth quarter, while the Pony defense controlled Sidney the rest of the way.
"We made some adjustments to their passing game at halftime," Purcell said. "I thought our defense played really well overall. We had some new kids in there, like Tyler Wheeler at defensive tackle, that really stepped in and did a great job on defense for us."
While the Ponies' first game of the season may be an indication of things to come, Purcell also found some areas in which Havre will need to improve.
"We had way too many penalties and mental mistakes," Purcell said. "It is early in the season, but we will have to cut back on those types of mistakes if we are going to be succesful this season."
Next up for the Ponies (1-0) is a home date with Western A foe Whitefish. The game between the Ponies and Bulldogs will kick off at Blue Pony Stadium at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Havre 28, Sidney 14
Havre 0 14 7 7 - 28
Sidney 0 14 0 0 - 14
Sidney - Josh Kringen 6 run (kick failed)
Havre - Coda Tchida 29 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner kick)
Havre - Daine Solomon 24 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Sidney - Gary Melby 3 run (Melby run)
Havre - Colby Mader 7 run (Wagner kick)
Havre - Wagner 4 run (Wagner kick)