By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
For just a few minutes of football on Saturday, the Havre High football team looked beatable.
But it was only for those few minutes.
After a shaky start, the No. 1 ranked Ponies ran through, ran past and ran over the Stevensville Yellowjackets and ran away with a 42-6 win in front a boisterous crowd at a near-packed Blue Pony Stadium.
After having a weekend bye, the explosive Pony offense looked somewhat rusty to open the game.
Havre twice had a shotgun snap go over the head of quarterback Gary Wagner in the first quarter and dropped three passes early on, in what was shaping up to be its first scoreless quarter in 10 games.
"We were a little rusty in that first quarter," Wagner said. "Not playing last weekend was tough. The last two weeks felt like an eternity."
"We weren't very sharp early on," said head coach Troy Purcell. "But credit our defense, because it got us some turnovers and helped get our offense going."
The Yellowjackets' first turnover proved costly, as a fumble on the center-quarterback exchange gave Havre good field position on the Stevi 46-yard line.
After seeing some early deep passes fall incomplete, the Ponies went to work on the ground. Wagner scrambled for 11 yards and Colby Mader added 20 yards on four carries to move Havre into the red zone. A 10-yard completion to Coda Tchida got Havre inside the 5. Wagner culminated the drive with a 2-yard touchdown scamper with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter.
From there, Havre's offense simply rolled. The Ponies were basically unstoppable. It didn't matter if it was a short pass, a run outside, a bomb deep or a simple run up the middle - it was going for positive yardage and leading toward a touchdown.
Havre racked up 28 points in the second quarter, turning a somewhat close game into yet another Pony blowout.
On the Ponies' first possession of the second quarter, Wagner found Scott Robinson on a short swing pass and the senior tailback did the rest. Robinson broke free from a pair of tacklers, eluded another and ran for 42 yards before being dragged down from behind on the Stevi 13-yard line. The two connected for another 11-yard pass to get Havre inside the 5. Robinson found the end zone two plays later on a 1-yard plunge. Wagner's point-after kick was short, leaving the Ponies up 13-0.
"We didn't expect to run so many short passes," Robinson said. "But their safeties were playing pretty deep and they were open."
The Ponies' offense would get another chance immediately. On the third play of Stevensville's ensuing possession, Havre linebacker Jared Weigel drilled Stevensville quarterback Luke Connors, forcing a fumble that Weigel promptly pounced on.
With prime field position on the Stevensville 28-yard line, Havre appeared to need just four plays as Robinson scored on a 14-yard screen pass and run. However, a holding penalty nullified the score. Havre was flagged with four costly holding calls in the game.
"Basically, there is holding on every play," Purcell said. "We just need to do a better job of keeping our arms inside of the defender and not holding. It cost us some big gains and a score."
The penalty only prolonged the inevitable as Wagner found Marc Mariani two plays later with an 8-yard scoring pass. Purcell then got creative on the point after. Mariani took the snap and flipped the ball between his legs to a cutting Wagner, who ran in for the two-point conversion.
Things would only continue to get worse for the Yellowjackets. The Havre defense continued to bottle up all-state running back Travis Browne, forcing him to fumble two plays into Stevensville's next possession. Chad Seely smothered the ball and gave Havre prime field position once again.
This time Havre would need just five plays to fined the end zone. Robinson picked up his own fumble and scrambled for 14 yards. After an incompletion and a Weigel 2-yard run, Wagner found Tchida with a pass over the middle for 25 yards, putting the Ponies at the 2-yard line. Wagner connected with Robinson on a short pass for Havre's third touchdown in the quarter.
Unlike most of the regular season and early in the game, Wagner stayed with a mixture of short and intermediate passes in the quarter, mainly because of Stevensville's deep secondary.
"Stevensville played pretty smart football defensively," Purcell said. "They set their defense up to take away the ball and forced us to adjust. We found some stuff open underneath and the kids did a good job of getting yards after the catch."
But it wouldn't be a Pony win without a few long-scoring passes. For good measure, Wagner threw a pretty ball to a streaking Tchida for a 64-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.
"They had their safeties over the top of our receivers early on," Wagner said. "We went to the short routes and it brought them up. Once we saw that, we knew we could go deep. Plus, my offensive line gave me tons of time to throw."
Up 35-0 at halftime, meant the Ponies would have a running clock in the second half, provided they could maintain the 35-point cushion. The Havre defense stayed tough and shut down Stevensville's vaunted rushing attack. Browne, who came into the contest having rushed for 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns, managed just 36 yards in the game.
"We had a good scheme," Robinson said. "We just keyed on their guards, because wherever they went is where the ball was going to go."
But scheme is only half the battle. Browne had few openings and broke even fewer tackles.
"We did a good job of tackling," Purcell said. "I liked our aggressive nature. Our kids did a nice job of pursuing to the football. We had 11 guys all over him."
In the second half, Havre was content to let the running clock run as Robinson, Mader and Weigel took their turns rushing the ball. The Ponies tacked on another score when Wagner connected with Mariani on a 21-yard pass to push the lead to 42-0.
With the game out of reach, things got out of hand on the field and some pushing and shoving led to a rash of penalties late. Havre even lost its shutout when Stevensville's Zach Renstrom recovered a fumble in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. But those things couldn't dampen the Ponies' dominating quarterfinal win.
"Obviously, we have to clean up the penalties," Purcell said." Overall, I was pleased with how we played. Our offense started off slow, but got going and our defense was just outstanding."
Wagner completed 16 of 28 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for another.
"It's nice to be playing next week," Purcell said. "We'll get back into more of our normal routine. We know we will face an option-style attack."
Indeed, the Ponies will face Libby, which upset No. 2 Sidney 35-34 in overtime, Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
Stevensville 0 0 0 6 - 6
Havre 7 28 0 7 - 42
Hav - Gary Wagner 2 run (Wagner kick)
Hav - Scott Robinson 2 run (kick failed)
Hav - Marc Mariani 10 pass from Wagner (Wagner run)
Hav - Robinson 2 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Hav - Coda Tchida 64 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Hav - Mariani 21 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Stevi - Zach Renstrom recovered fumble in end zone (run failed)
First downs 9 14
Rushes-yards 32-79 30-107
Passing yards 36 312
Comp-Att-Int 8-14-1 16-28-0
Total yards 115 419
Penalties-yards 4-30 15-140