By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The Havre Blue Ponies have been dominant both offensively and defensively all season long. If you were to look at the final stats from Friday night's game against No. 5 Belgrade, it would seem like a given that the Ponies had prevailed.
However, the stat sheets and scoreboard told two different stories as Havre suffered its first loss of the season 16-14. The Panthers have now taken a huge step forward in the race for the Central A Conference championship.
The final score and the statistics left veteran Blue Pony head coach Troy Purcell scatching his head as well.
"The coaching staff and the kids feel like we won this football game," Purcell said. "When you look at the numbers, we dominated them on offense and I thought our defense also played well enough to win the game."
"But we just didn't get the breaks and we could not put the ball in the end zone enough," Purcell added.
The breaks would include a potential game-winning touchdown that was called back late in the fourth quarter. With Belgrade leading 16-14 with under three minutes to play, Daine Solomon returned a Panther punt 45 yards for what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown. But the return was nullified on a clipping penalty and Havre could not score the remainder of the game.
"That is a very tough way to lose a football game," Purcell said. "I feel really bad for the kids because it looked like we had fought back and it looked like we were maybe going to pull it out. It's really tough right now."
As for the game's total statistics, the numbers don't lie. The Ponies racked up 381 yards of total offense to Belgrade's 198. The Ponies also held Belgrade star running back Jake Kallestad to 124 yards rushing and no touchdowns. But mistakes and a few crucial penalties cost the Ponies precious field position and perhaps the game, according to Purcell.
"We came out in the second half and throw a key interception right away and that hurt," he said. "We also had a couple of penalties that killed some good drives in the red zone. We just couldn't overcome all of that adversity."
The Ponies opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by junior Colby Mader. That gave Havre a 7-0 lead after 12 minutes of play.
In the second quarter, the Panthers scored twice, including a 27-yard field goal from Tyler Miller and a 17-yard pass from quarterback Caleb Salisbury to Andrew Walsh. Salisbury's TD strike gave the Panthers a slim 9-7 lead at the half.
After the two teams played to a scoreless third quarter, the Panthers struck again early in the fourth when Salisbury found Mike Bell for a 14-yard TD pass that increased their lead to 16-7. Havre then battled back as Gary Wagner fired a 14-yard TD strike to junior Marc Mariani to pull the Ponies to within two points at 16-14.
Wagner led the way offensively for Havre with 285 yards passing and a touchdown. He was also intercepted twice.
"This loss definitely hurts as far as the conference championship and the playoff picture is concerned," Purcell said. "But hopefully the character of this team will show and we can bounce back against Lewistown."
Havre (5-1) will now prepare to host the Lewistown Eagles on Saturday night at Blue Pony Stadium. The game between the Ponies and Eagles will be broadcast live on Omega Television as part of a day-night doubleheader with Montana State University-Northern.
Havre 7 0 0 7 - 14
Belgrade 0 9 0 7 - 16
Havre - Colby Mader 10 run (Gary Wagner kick)
Belgrade - Tyler Miller 27-yd field goal
Belgrade - Andrew Walsh 17 pass from Caleb Salisbury (kick failed)
Belgrade - Mike Bell 14 pass from Caleb Salisbury (Tyler Miller kick)
Havre - Marc Mariani 14 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner kick).