By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Havre High School head football coach Troy Purcell is hoping the number 13 will turn out to be a good number for a change, instead of the usual "unlucky" stigma that is normally attached to it.
That is because in twelve years as a head coach, Purcell has never lost a homecoming game and his undefeated Blue Ponies will be looking to keep that streak in tact when they host the Glendive Red Devils tonight at Blue Pony Stadium.
"I have been real fortunate as a head coach to never lose on homecoming," Purcell said. "And I'm just gonna knock on wood and hope we play well and see if that streak can continue."
But the No. 2 Blue Ponies may need a little more than just luck on their side when the unranked Red Devils come calling - hoping to spoil the homecoming party.
Glendive is off to a 2-1 start this season and looked impressive in a 21-13 win over Central A powerhouse Lewistown last Friday night. Meanwhile, the Ponies are coming off of a 41-32 barnburner win over then No. 4 Columbia Falls, in which they had to overcome a first-half deficit and stave off a 16-point fourth quarter rally.
And if homecoming and a head coach's winning streak wasn't enough to make tonight's matchup intriguing, there is also the Moore Trophy and revenge to factor in as well.
Glendive is coming into Havre after getting spanked by the Ponies, 32-0, on their home field last September. The Red Devils will not only be trying to avenge that loss, but also reclaim the Moore Trophy, which the two schools have battled over on and off over the past 30 years.
The Moore trophy was donated by former Havre resident Lewis Moore, who owned the Rose Theater in Glendive and the Orpheum and Lyric Theaters in Havre. The trophy is given to the annual winner of the Havre-Glendive. The trophy kind of faded out of importance for close to 20 years as Havre jumped to Class AA and back down to Class A, but in a different conference than Glendive.
Now with the realignment of the Class A conferences, Havre will play Glendive annually and the trophy will once again come to prominence.
To maintain possession of the Moore Trophy, the Ponies will be facing a much different, much better Red Devil squad than they beat last year.
"This is a very much improved Glendive team than the one we played last year," Purcell said. "They run an entirely different offense and they have a lot of speed and talent on both sides of the football."
Indeed, the Devils are already a much better team than in 2002, as they have already doubled their win total from that season. They are led by senior quarterback Bryce Fast, who possesses good arm strength and the ability to make things happen outside the pocket. Fast also benefits by having a pair of talented wideouts in senior Allen Merill (6-2, 180) and junior Blaine Berg (6-0, 180).
Purcell believes Glendive's offense and defense will match up well against the Ponies offense and defense.
"Glendive has a lot of talent and speed on offense," Purcell said. "They throw a lot of screen passes and run a lot of wing option and that will present a big challenge for our defense."
"They are also all over the field defensively," Purcell added. "They have a lot of speed and they seem to be all over the ball on the film that we have watched."
Despite all of Glendive's talent however, they will face the daunting task of trying to steal a homecoming contest against a red-hot Havre offense. The Ponies come in with the top-rated passing attack in Class A football and an underrated defense that has bent at times this season, but has yet to break.
"The key to our success so far has been how much Gary Wagner has improved and grown into the quarterback role," Purcell said. "He has really matured and he getting really comfortable accepting the role he has on this football team. He is playing as good as anybody out there right now."
Tonight's key for the Ponies may be a matter of cutting down on the only thing that has seemed to hold them back all season - mistakes.
"We have had a real solid week of practice," Purcell said. "The coaching staff put a big emphasis on cutting out the mental mistakes and penalties that have been hurting us in our first three games. The kids have responded well."
"I think the kids are really focused and excited about this homecoming game," he added. "We'll just go out and try to execute our gameplan and hopefully that will translate into a win."
Tonight's homecoming matchup between Havre (3-0) and Glendive (2-1) will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610-AM KOJM.