George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It seems like the No. 1 ranked Havre High football team has hosted big football games all season at Blue Pony Stadium. Tonight's final regular season home tilt with the Butte Central Maroons will be no exception
While it is true that the top-ranked and undefeated Ponies have their season on cruise control right now, there is still a lot to play for tonight when the Maroons come calling. And don't forget it will be "senior night."
Senior night is one of the most special game's of the season for every high school team because it is usually the last time the seniors will play in front of their home crowd.
However, this HHS team has more to play for tonight. If things stay true to form, it won't be the last time the Ponies will run out onto the field at Blue Pony Stadium this season.
With a win over the Maroons (2-1, 3-3), Havre can basically lock up the Central A conference championship as well as home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The worst Havre can do is share the conference title if it were to lose to the Maroons tonight and Browning next week. The Ponies' position leaves head coach Troy Purcell optimistic position as they prepare for their final regular season home game.
"This is another big game for us tonight and the kids know what we are playing for," Purcell said. "They are focused on this game. We have been fortunate to have a very good home schedule where it is has worked out that we have some very important games at home.
"Senior night is always a very special night and it gets the kids really fired up," he added. "We also have an opportunity to clinch the conference title and home field advantage in the playoffs so we will be ready to play."
Even though there is a strong possibility that it won't be the last time that Havre's seniors will grace their home field, it doesn't make tonight's game any less special. But according to senior wide receiver/defensive back Marc Mariani this season has been the plan of this group from the first day they arrived at Havre High.
"The way this season has gone is exactly how we dreamed about it when we were freshman," Mariani said. "We have been working towards the goal of winning a state championship since we came together our freshman year. Even then, we knew that we had a lot of talented players and that eventually we could be a really good football team."
Said Purcell: "This is really the first class of kids that I really got to know. I taught a lot these kids at the middle school. They are a great group of talented players and great kids and they have made this year a lot of fun."
Indeed, 2004 has been a dream season for the Ponies and it's seniors. Havre has dominated its opponents in every phase of the game en route to a perfect 7-0 record
The Ponies are ranked No. 1 in the state in total offense and total defense entering tonight's contest. The defense has only been scored on once in the last five games and several Havre players are having all-state seasons on both sides of the ball.
While talent and coaching has taken the Ponies a very long way this season, Mariani said that the team also possesses some very important intangibles that have contributed to their success on the field.
"One of the best things about this season is that we have such a strong team bond," Mariani said. "After our freshman year some of us were split up for a while, but it has all come back together now.
"This group is like a big family," he added. "We have fun together and we work hard together. Every player puts the team first and I know having such strong chemistry like that makes us that much harder to beat."
As the season winds down, the veteran Ponies know there is still much work to be done. The Maroons are back in the Central A conference after a stint in the Southwest A. It is a strong rivalry that will be renewed tonight.
Butte Central will not make things easy on the Ponies. The Maroons possess some very athletic players on offense led by shifty junior quarterback Jake Stagnoli. Butte Central is an option-first team under veteran head coach Don Peeples Jr., but they do possess a very dangerous pair of wide receivers in Sean Peterson and Shaun McKeon
According to Purcell, forcing the Maroons to throw the ball will be paramount, because he anticipates Peeples wanting to control the clock and keep the vaunted Havre offense off the field.
"They run the option very well, but they are also capable of throwing the ball," Purcell said. "Our defense will have to control the line of scrimmage and prevent them from hitting us with big plays.
"We are playing very good football on the defensive side of the ball," Purcell added. "That has really opened things up for our offense to get more chances to score. Hopefully, our defense will be up to the challenge again tonight."
Of course, Havre's offense hasn't had any trouble putting points on the scoreboard this season. The challenge for Purcell and his staff has been keeping the players focused and not overlooking anybody from week to week. Thus far, he is more than pleased with the way his players have responded to that challenge each week.
"These are very smart kids and I don't think they have overlooked anybody this season," Purcell said. "They have done a great job of staying focused and they have embraced our need to take it one game at a time."
Mariani attributes much of that focus to his fellow seniors. He said that having such a veteran team has been another important part of what is made this team so tough to beat this season.
"I don't think you can get much more experienced than 11 seniors on the field at one time," Mariani said. "The great thing about this group is that we all use that experience to be a better team and it shows on the field every week."
Before tonight's opening kickoff Havre High will honor the 20 seniors on the HHS roster. Those player are Mariani, Coda Tchida, Gary Wagner, Scott Robinson, Colby Mader, Brett Michels, Craig Kallenberger, Rick Houim, Zack Musson, Chad Stratton, Nick Daniel, Byron Wright, Bill Zuelke, Nick Bebee, Tyler Wheeler, Tyler Schroeder, Chad Seely, Garrett Neiffer, Ted Wells and Brydan Vukasin.
Kick-off for tonight's game between Havre and Butte Central is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM