By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ firstname.lastname@example.org
One week after the Havre High football team not only avenged its 2002 home loss to the Sidney Eagles - as well as opening the 2003 campaign with a stunning and solid win - the Ponies will get another opportunity to atone for one of the few low points from last season.
That low point in 2002 was a 20-19 overtime loss to the Whitefish Bulldogs in the season opener at Blue Pony Stadium.
The Bulldogs make a return trip to Havre for another showdown with the Ponies. And has been the case over the last three seasons, the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe traveling trophy will be up for grabs on Saturday afternoon.
"We have never beaten Whitefish at our home," said Havre High head coach Troy Purcell. "And last season's game was a tough loss. So the kids and myself would love to get this win and get that trophy back in Havre."
While last season's game between Havre and Whitefish may be bulletin board material for the Ponies, the Bulldogs (0-1) should have no trouble getting up for Saturday's contest either. Whitefish was stunned in its season opening home game last Friday night when it was defeated 15-14 by Southcentral Conference rival Hamilton.
"I'm sure that Whitefish will be ready for this game," Purcell said. "From the film, it just didn't look they played as well as their capable of, but they are a good football team. They have always played well in Havre, so I expect a very tough football game."
Conversely, the Ponies don't have to worry about rebounding from a season-opening loss this year. Havre is feeling good about the start to its season after a 28-14 win over Sidney last Saturday night. But now the Ponies must forget that win and shift their attention to the always dangerous Bulldogs.
Purcell said that the task of focusing on Whitefish has not been easy this week for a number of reasons.
"We did not have a very productive practice on Tuesday," Purcell said. "The kids seemed a little sluggish. But practice has gotten better as the week has gone on, so hopefully they will be ready to go on Saturday."
Another problem has been that several players have been a little banged up this week as well. Junior quarterback Gary Wagner, who was sensational in his varsity debut against Sidney, has been nursing a sore thumb on his throwing hand. Daine Solomon, Brett Michels and Scott Robinson have also been plagued this week by minor injuries.
Besides having to overcome the nagging injuries, the sluggish practices and a possible letdown, they will have to stop one of Class A's most exciting offensive players in Whitefish junior tailback Jolly Righetti (5-8, 175). Righetti amassed 1,000 yards in rushing in his sophomore season and is poised to have another big season in 2003.
"We have to key on Jolly Righetti," Purcell said. "He is a tremendous athlete and a great football player, and he is the key to their offense."
"He (Righetti) had the ball in his hands a lot against Hamilton, and we are going to key on him and force them to beat us in other areas."
Despite the fact that Righetti is flanked by an inexperienced quarterback in sophomore Taylor Ferda, he does have help in the form of a big and experienced offensive line. The Bulldogs start three seniors on the line including Brian Ruffatto (6-1, 190), Ben Clark (6-1, 230) and Tom Hodges (6-2, 240). Purcell also believes that testing a stingy Bulldog defense will be paramount for success.
"We know what we have to do defensively," Purcell said. "But Whitefish is always strong defensively. We will have to be as sharp as we were against Sidney if we are going to win this game.
"We are going to continue to spread them out and go down field with the ball," Purcell added. "Hopefully that explosiveness that we had last week will be there for us again."
The clash between the Whitefish and Havre is set to kickoff at 2 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM.