By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Less than a week removed from a 42-7 thrashing of the Whitefish Bulldogs, the No. 1 ranked Havre Blue Ponies return home to host their second straight Northwest A opponent.
Coming into tonight's non-conference clash with the Columbia Falls Wildkats, Havre head coach Troy Purcell is more than pleased with where his team is at early in the 2004 season.
"We played a very good all-around football game at Whitefish," Purcell said. "And we're feeling pretty good about where we are as a football team right now. But we have stay focused from week to week. We can't afford to overlook anyone or take anyone lightly because of how well we are playing right now."
In high school football, no team can afford to take a game lightly because of the playoff implications that come with a an eight or nine game schedule, and the Ponies (3-0) won't take the visiting Wildkats for granted tonight.
Despite coming into Blue Pony Stadium with a less than sparkling 1-2 record and a 41-14 loss at the hands of Stevensville last week, Columbia Falls is a dangerous offensive football team with several weapons at the skill positions.
"We are definitely in for a good test on Friday night," Purcell said. "They have a very good running back who did a lot of damage against us last season. They also have some outstanding speed at receiver and tight end, so we know they are capable of some big plays on offense."
The Wildkat offense which ranks second among Northwest A teams is led by 5-9 senior tailback Kyle Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum has already rushed for nearly 400 yards in three games this season.
Senior wideout Drew Perry (6-1, 170) and senior tight end Jace Ladenburg (6-2, 215) are dangerous pass catchers for senior quarterback Chris Olson. Olson stepped into the quarterback duties this season for graduated all-conference quarterback Brad Bennett. And thus far, he has done a fine job as the Wildkats lead the conference in passing.
The Wildkats are also among the league leaders in pass defense and total defense, but they unfortunately lead the league in rushing yards allowed - a statistic that might factor into tonight's matchup with the highly balanced Blue Ponies. Still, Purcell isn't going to change his offensive gameplan just for this week.
"Columbia Falls has a pretty quick defense and they fly well to the ball," Purcell said. "We have added a couple of new formations this week in practice, but we aren't changing much. We are going to try to move the ball up and down the field and hopefully we can find the end zone like we have been doing.
"One thing we did much better in Whitefish is take care of the ball," Purcell added. "Hopefully that kind of focus and execution will continue and we can keep improving as a football team."
While Havre's top-ranked offense has been on a roll the last couple of weeks, the Ponies defense suffered a blow in Whitefish. Linebacker Brett Michels suffered a concussion that will keep him out of tonight's game and possibly next week as well. That means that defensive end Jared Weigel will move to linebacker to fill in for Michels. But according to Purcell, Weigel isn't 100 percent either.
"Jared hurt his leg in practice this week, but he is going to play," Purcell said. "We are dealing with a few minor injuries right now, and we lost Brett Michels for this week. Hopefully, that doesn't continue, because no one can afford injuries at this level."
With both offenses putting up gaudy numbers this season, tonight's game may come down to which team has the better defense. The Wildkats defense may be reeling somewhat after being stung by the Stevensville Yellowjackets last week for 42 points, while the Ponies will be going without a starting linebacker. Yet, Purcell sees another factor playing a part in tonight's game - emotion.
"I'm sure they will be fired up to come in here and play us tough," Purcell said. "They were ranked and undefeated last season, and we went down to their place and picked up a big win and they suffered some injuries in that game that hurt the rest of their season.
"Our kids are also riding pretty high right now," Purcell said. "We aren't overlooking them at all and we'll be ready to play on Friday night."
Kickoff for tonight's game between Havre and Colombia Falls is set for 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.