By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It didn't take long for the No. 1 ranked Havre Blue Ponies to take advantage of a struggling Whitefish team.
The Ponies scored a touchdown in the first three minutes of Saturday's Class A nonconference tilt with Whitefish. That score set the tone for what would turn into an all-out first-half 42-0 route. Havre went on to upend the Bulldogs 42-7 for the second straight season.
The win over the Bulldogs means that Havre retains the Burlington Northern Santa Fe traveling trophy for the second straight season.
Whitefish came into Saturday's home opener reeling from the loss of star running back Jolly Righetti to a torn anterior cruciate ligament last week in Corvallis. The Bulldogs had already lost junior quarterback Taylor Ferda to a back injury.
Then on Friday, to make matters worse, Whitefish reported the use of an ineligible player in its season opener against Hamilton, which meant that it forfeited its first win of the season.
It didn't take long for Havre quarterback Gary Wagner to feast on an inexperienced Bulldog defensive backfield. Wagner hooked up with senior wideout Coda Tchida for a 35-yard touchdown strike in the first three minutes of the game.
The touchdown pass to Tchida was one of three Havre scores in the first quarter and one of four TD catches for Tchida on the day. Havre was also the recipient of several Whitefish fumbles in the first half by Righetti's replacement, Tim Lehner.
"They had some difficulty keeping up with our receivers early in the game," said Havre High head coach Troy Purcell. "Our receivers did a great job of getting open and making catches and Gary really picked them apart."
On Havre's next possession, Wagner again found Tchida, this time from 11 yards out to build the lead to 14-0. The Ponies finished off the first quarter onslaught with a 5-yard run by senior tailback Scott Robinson.
Tchida, however, was just getting warmed up. He found the endzone two more times in the second period. The first TD strike came just 21 seconds into the period, when Wagner hit him for a 60-yard pass and run that upped the Ponies' lead to 28-0. Less than five minutes later, the duo hooked up for a 56-yard pass play that resulted in Tchida's fourth TD reception of the day. With under five minutes remaining, Robinson finished off the first-half barrage with a 3-yard touchdown plunge to put the Ponies ahead 42-0.
"Our offense was really playing well in the first half," Purcell said. "I thought we were a much better team this week than we were last week offensively.
"Coda Tchida had a really big game, and once Gary settled down, he threw the ball really well," Purcell added. "I was really pleased with how we played offensively."
Content to keep the ball on the ground in the second half, Purcell turned the game over to his stingy defense, and the Ponies didn't disappoint. The Bulldogs did manage to put a late drive together that resulted in a Lehner 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. But in all, Havre dominated the game from start to finish on both side of the football.
"Colby Mader did a great job of leading our defense like he always does," Purcell said. "But in the second half, I thought Whitefish showed signs that they are still going to be a good football team. In my mind, they are still a playoff team coming out of a very difficult Western A division. They just need time to adjust to what's happened to them."
Tchida led the way for the Ponies offensively. He caught six balls for 173 yards, four of them touchdowns.
Wagner was nearly perfect on the day, going 13 for 14 for 259 yards and four TDs. Robinson led Havre's rushing attack. He carried the ball 10 times for 65 yards and a pair of scores. The Ponies punted the ball just once on the day.
Meanwhile, the HHS defense allowed the Bulldogs just 76 total yards and eight first downs on the day.
"I was really pleased with our overall play this week," Purcell said. "I think we cleaned a lot of things up and the kids were very focused and it showed in the first half."
Havre (3-0) will now prepare for its final nonconference game of the season. The Ponies will host Columbia Falls on Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Havre 21 21 0 0 - 42
Whitefish 0 0 0 7 - 7
HAV - Coda Tchida 35 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner kick), 10:23.
HAV - Tchida 11 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick), 6:50.
HAV - Scott Robinson 5 run (Wagner kick), 1:09.
HAV - Tchida 60 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick), 11:39.
HAV - Tchida 56 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick), 6:50.
HAV - Robinson 3 run (Wagner kick), 4:58.
WF - Tim Lehner 1 run (Dan Jones kick), 8:06.
First downs 16 8
Rushes-yards 29-88 24-26
Passing 257 49
Comp-Att-Int 13-14-0 4-11-1
Punts 1 5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 9-75 5-29
RUSHING - Havre, Robinson 10-65, Scott Miller 3-25, Colby Mader 5-9, Wagner 6-6, Tanner Donovan 1-0, Garett Neiffer 1-(minus-2), Jared Weigel 3-(minus-3). Whitefish, Lehner 4-17, Kyle Becker 5-17, Brad Kuntz 2-15, Cody Idol 1-4, Luke Haberkern 5-4, Zach Fennelly 6-(minus-19).
PASSING - Havre, Wagner 13-14-0-257. Whitefish, Fennelly 4-11-1-49.
RECEIVING - Havre, Tchida 6-173, Marc Mariani 2-48, Robinson 3-28, Neiffer 1-12, Rick Houim 1-(minus-4). Whitefish, Chris Hicks 3-33, Casey Speer 1-16.
MISSED FIELD GOAL-Havre, Wagner 34 (WL).