By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
As much as the Havre High School football team has shown the ability to score points in bunches this season, the last two weeks have been a showcase for how dominant the Pony defense can be.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Ponies shut out an opponent at home as they routed the Livingston Runnin' Rangers, 34-0, Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium.
The win over the Rangers not only gets the Ponies off on the right foot as they begin defense of their 2002 Central A conference championship, it also marks the third straight season in which the Rangers have failed to score a single point against Havre's defensive unit.
Havre High defensive coordinator Jason Christenson praised his young but talented defense for its efforts.
"The kids have played very well as a unit the last couple of weeks," Christenson said. "I don't think that one kid has really stepped up and outperformed anyone else. The whole team is contributing defensively right now and it is paying off for us."
Christenson also believes that surrendering no points to Glendive and Livingston gives his troops a much needed boost as they approach the toughest portion of their 2003 schedule.
"When you have two straight shutouts, it is obviously going to give our team some confidence," Christenson said. "But now, we'll really find out where we're at because we are going to face some very good offensive teams the next couple of weeks."
The Blue Pony offense was also clicking on all cylinders again Friday night and might be playing better.
The Ponies opened the scoring against the struggling Rangers at the 6:13 mark of the first quarter when Gary Wagner scored on a quarterback keeper from 10 yards out to give Havre a 7-0 lead.
The Rangers went three and out on their next possession, which led to Havre's second score of the quarter.
The drive started on Havre's 36-yard line. On second down, Wagner hit Marc Mariani for a 37-yard pass play. Two plays later, Wagner connected with tailback Scott Robinson on a 24-yard screen pass, giving the Ponies a 14-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Havre played ball control, going on a five-minute drive that resulted in its third score of the half. This time Wagner found Daine Solomon in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD strike.
"I thought the offense played solid the whole game," said Havre High head coach Troy Purcell. "We still had some penalties and mental mistakes that we need to work out, but when you have a bunch of kids that play as hard as these kids do all the time, things seem to go pretty well."
In the second half, the Rangers' offense continued to have trouble moving the football against a stingy Pony defense.
Meanwhile, the Ponies added to their lead, scoring two more times in the second half. The first score came with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter when Wagner found junior tight end Rick Houim for a 17-yard catch and run. The touchdown was Houim's first of his varsity career. In the fourth quarter, Havre found the end zone one more time as Colby Mader scored on a 10-yard run.
Perhaps the only drama came in the game's final seconds as Livingston attempted a 31-yard field goal in order to avoid being shut out. But Havre High defensive end Tyler Wheeler blocked the kick.
The Ponies racked up 389 yards of total offense. Wagner had another fine outing, going 17 for 22 for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 30 yards on five carries and a score.
Solomon and Houim both had good nights receiving. Solomon led the way with six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown while Houim caught four balls for 47 yards and a score.
"We have tried to get the ball to Rick Houim for a couple of games now because we know he has great hands," Purcell said. "He had an outstanding game this weekend and we are real happy for him to get his first varsity touchdown."
Defensively, the Ponies were paced by Wheeler with 14 total tackles and his blocked kick. Colby Mader led Havre in tackles with 15.
"I thought as a team we played pretty well this week," Purcell said. "I think we still have some things to work on and get better at. But the most important thing is that I feel we have improved every week, and hopefully we will continue to do that."
The No. 2-ranked Blue Ponies (5-0) will travel to Belgrade Friday night for a pivotal Central A matchup with the No. 5 ranked Panthers (4-1).
Livingston 0 0 0 0 - 0
Havre 14 7 7 6 - 34
HAV - Gary Wagner 10 run (Wagner kick)
HAV - Scott Robinson 24 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
HAV - Daine Solomon 11 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
HAV - Rick Houim 17 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
HAV - Colby Mader 10 run (Kick failed)
Havre Passing - Gary Wagner 17-22-253-0-3
Havre Rushing - Colby Mader 11-43, Scott Robinson 6-33, Gary Wagner 5-30, Coda Tchida 1-0, Jared Weigel 3-9.
Havre Receiving - Daine Solomon 6-69, Rick Houim 4-47, Marc Mariani 2-49, Colby Mader 1-13, Coda Tchida 1-26.