By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The first goal of a Troy Purcell- coached Havre High football team each season is to win its nonconference schedule.
On Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, Purcell's No. 1-ranked Blue Ponies completed that goal with a 48-0 rout of the Columbia Falls Wildkats.
The Wildkats came into Friday night's tilt with the Ponies sporting a reeling defense that had suffered a blowout loss at the hands of Stevensville a week ago.
Things didn't get much better this week.
It only took one play for the Ponies to exploit the Wildkats' defensive secondary, as quarterback Gary Wagner hit wide receiver Coda Tchida for a 55-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game.
Four minutes later, Havre was back in the end zone when Wagner hit Scott Robinson on a fade route from 5 yards away.
The first quarter barrage didn't end there. Havre recovered a Wildkats fumble and went on offense again. Fullback Colby Mader subsequently plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out.
After another three and out by Columbia Falls, the Ponies put the game out of reach. Wagner found Marc Mariani for a 70-yard catch and run that resulted in a 28-0 lead with just 21 seconds remaining in the opening period.
"That first play of the game really set the tone for the rest of the night offensively," Purcell said. "We were able to jump on them early and our offense really clicked from there."
Wagner, who finished the night a perfect 6 for 6 with three touchdowns, was forced to sit out the remainder of the game due to a sore back, which he suffered after being hit on the goal line during Havre's third possession of the quarter. He agreed with his head coach's assessment of the first quarter.
"Coda said he thought he would be open on the first play and I was able to find him," Wagner said. "That was a big play and our offense was really sharp the whole game. We just played really well all the way around."
Meanwhile, the Wildkats' offense never got on track against a Havre defense that has now allowed just one touchdown in its last eight quarters.
Havre was the recipient of two more Columbia Falls turnovers in the second quarter, and backup quarterback Tanner Donovan made sure those miscues turned into points.
Donovan found Mariani from 14 yards out to up the lead to 34-0. It was Donovan's first varsity touchdown. He then engineered another drive later in the quarter that culminated with a 13-yard end-around by Tchida that gave the Ponies a 41-0 lead at halftime.
Wagner was quick to credit the work performed by his offensive line, which consists of unsung heroes like Nick Daniel, Zach Musson, Tyler Wheeler, Chad Seely and Chad Stratton.
"Our offensive line has just been playing so well lately," Wagner said. "We were able to really pick (Columbia Falls) apart because we just have so much time back there. It all starts with those guys and they are the biggest reason why we are having so much success right now on offense."
The clock ran continuously in the second half, and the Ponies scored one more touchdown in the third quarter when Mariani caught a Donovan pass and took it 70 yards for his third receiving touchdown of the night. Havre's defense never allowed the Wildkats a chance to get near the end zone and earned the shutout.
"I think our defense really got fired up as a result of what the offense did in the first quarter," Purcell said. "They played with a lot of intensity and fire, and it was a lot of fun to watch them got out and get the ball back."
Wagner's perfect first quarter gave him 174 yards and three touchdowns, and Donovan was solid the rest of the night. He finish 5 for 8 for 91 yards with two TDs and one interception.
Mariani had another huge night, catching four balls for 180 yards and three scores. Defensively, Havre got 10 tackles, including five solos from Jared Weigel. Weigel also had a forced fumble and Ricky Houim added a forced fumble and a sack. Defensive end Bryden Vukasin had nine tackles and a recovered fumble on the night.
The Ponies are 4-0 after the win on Friday night, and Purcell is very pleased with how the nonconference season went.
"I like where we are as a football team right now," Purcell said. "We're playing good football on both sides of the ball, and we played another great game on Friday night.
"Our assistant coaches came up with a great game plan, and they have been working hard at preparing this team each week," Purcell added. "Now we're 0-0 again and we have to get ready for our conference schedule."
Havre will begin its quest for a Central A title when it visits Livingston on Friday night.
Colombia Falls 0 0 0 0 - 0
Havre 28 13 7 0 - 48
Havre - Coda Tchida 55 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner kick)
Havre - Scott Robinson 5 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Havre - Colby Mader 1 run (Wagner kick)
Havre - Marc Mariani 70 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
Havre - Mariani 14 pass from Tanner Donovan (kick failed)
Havre - Tchida 13 run (Wagner kick)
Havre - Mariani 73 pass from Donovan (Craig Kallenberger kick).
Receiving - Coda Tchida 2-61, Marc Mariani 4-180, Scott Robinson 4-7, Rick Houim 1-15, Sean Peterson 1-2.
Passing - Gary Wagner 6-6-174-0, Tanner Donovan 5-9-91-1.
Rushing - Coda Tchida 1-13, Colby Mader 2-3, Scott Robinson 11-43, Scott Miller 3-24, Jared Weigel 4-6, Gary Wagner 1-7, Tanner Donovan 1-1.