By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn't the first half that anyone was expecting Saturday night at Blue Pony Stadium.
But the Havre Blue Ponies shook off the early doldrums and senior wideout Marc Mariani exploded in the fourth quarter to take care of the pesky Glendive Red Devils 21-6 in the opening game of the 2004 Class A football season for both teams.
Havre spotted Glendive a 6-0 lead at halftime despite controlling the clock and driving into the redzone several times. However, the Ponies scored three times in the fourth quarter to get their season off to a 1-0 start.
"We just didn't play that well in the first half," said HHS veteran head coach Troy Purcell. "We just weren't able to put points on the board. We had chances in the redzone in the first half, but we just didn't execute the plays."
The two teams played a scoreless first quarter, even though the Ponies held the ball for almost 10 minutes in the period. Havre began the second quarter with the ball, but Gary Wagner was picked off by Bryant Johnson to open the quarter. Three minutes later, quarterback Blaine Berg turned the turnover into points by hooking up with Johnston for a 33-yard touchdown strike that gave Glendive a surprising 6-0 lead.
After the touchdown, the Ponies marched the ball down the field again, milking six minutes off the clock. But the Ponies were again turned away when Wagner was intercepted in the end zone. The turnover preserved Glendive's 6-0 lead.
"I think that first half was a good wake-up call for everybody," Purcell said. "At halftime, the kids knew that they had not played as good as they were capable of. There was definitely a sense of urgency, because we knew we were a better football team than we showed in the first half."
Mariani agreed with Purcell's take on the first half.
"Going into the locker room, we were a little down and we were frustrated," Mariani said. "We all knew we were doing the things we needed to do to win this game. We just weren't getting the job done at that point."
The two team's played to a stalemate again in the third quarter. Glendive recovered a fumbled punt by Coda Tchida early in the period but could not capitalize. Then late in the quarter, Havre got a break when a Blaine Berg fumble was recovered by Rick Houim in Glendive territory. The quarter ended with Havre once again driving. Mariani said that the turnover changed the entire complexion of the game.
"When we got that turnover, everything changed for us," Mariani said. "At that point, they were still beating us, but when that happened the momentum swung completely and we were able to score and get our confidence back. And we just rolled from there."
Indeed, Wagner hit Mariani twice on the ensuing drive, the second of which resulted in an 8-yard TD that left the game tied at 6-6. Less than two minutes later the Ponies seized the lead when the duo hooked up again. This time Wagner found Mariani in the flat and Mariani raced 39-yards for his second touchdown of the game. Mariani capped off his night with a 13-yard touchdown on a reverse later in the period.
"I thought our offense was much better in the second half," Purcell said. "We made some mistakes early, but I thought the "Defensively, I was pretty pleased with the way we played overall, " he added. "We made some minor adjustments at halftime and the kids did a pretty good job of stopping what they were trying to do against us in the second half."
Mariani's night included four catches for 96 yards and a pair of TDs. He also had the one carry for a third touchdown.
Senior Scott Robinson also had a solid all-around night offensively. Robinson carried the ball 11 times for 93 yards and he also caught seven balls for 61 yards. Wagner was 20-27 for 230 with a pair of TDs and a pair of interceptions.
Defensively, the Ponies were paced by linebackers Colby Mader and Brett Michels. Mader was in on 13 tackles including seven solos. Michels chipped in with 10 total tackles. Senior Bryden Vukasin registered the lone sack on the night.
"It was good to get the first win of the season," Purcell said. "There was a lot of hype and maybe a few distractions with the new stadium and a new season, but I was proud of the way the kids battled and found a way to get the job done. Now we have to get back to work and prepare hard for Billings Central."
Said Mariani: "We know we're not satisfied with the way we played against Glendive. We need to focus and work harder in practice and be more prepared to play this week."
Next up for Havre (1-0) will be a home meeting on Friday night with Billings Central (1-0). The game between the Ponies and Rams is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.
HAVRE 21, GLENDIVE 6
Glendive 0 6 0 0 - 6
Havre 0 0 0 21 - 21
Glendive - Bryant Johnson 33 pass from Blaine Berg (Kick failed).
Havre - Marc Mariani 8 pass from Gary Wagner (kick failed)
Havre - Marc Mariani 39 pass from Gary Wagner (Mariani pass from Wagner)
Havre - Mariani 13 run (Wagner kick).
Rushing - Marc Mariani 1-13, Colby Mader 1-6, Scott Robinson 11-93, Gary Wagner 8-20, Craig Kallenberger 6-33.
Passing - Gary Wagner - 20-27-230-2.
Receiving - Colby Mader 2-24, Coda Tchida 2-12, Scott Robinson 7-61, Garrett Neiffer 1-4, Craig Kallenberger 1-17, Rick Houim 1-16, Marc Mariani 4-96.