By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After a 50-14 win over the Butte Central Maroons on Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium, the No. 1-ranked Havre Blue Ponies are two-thirds of the way to achieving every goal they set for themselves when the season started.
The commanding win on senior night over the Maroons clinched the Central A Conference championship for Havre. The win also assures the Ponies of home field advantage throughout the Class A state playoffs, as well as a bye in the first round.
The conference championship is the second in three years for HHS head coach Troy Purcell. Obviously, he was pleased with how his team performed against the Maroons on Friday night.
"I thought that we were very sharp again," Purcell said. "These kids have been focused every game and it shows on the field.
"We're obviously very happy to get the conference championship and we're excited to have the playoffs at home," he added.
Once again, the Ponies used a quick start to bury the Maroons, as quarterback Gary Wagner hit Coda Tchida for a 67-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game.
It was not the start that Butte Central head coach Don Peeples Jr. was hoping for. It would only get worse for the Maroons on their first possession.
Butte Central put together a solid opening drive with quarterback Jake Stagnoli driving the Maroons into Havre territory. The drive came to a screeching halt when running back Matt Pokorny fumbled the ball on the Havre 40-yard line and Pony safety Marc Mariani scooped up it up and returned it 60 yards untouched for Havre's second score in less than five minutes.
Pokorny's fumble was the first of eight Butte Central turnovers on the night.
Following Mariani's fumble return, the Maroons once again put together a solid drive against the vaunted Havre defense, but a turnover on the opening play of the second quarter ended the drive. Stagnoli coughed up the football and defensive end Ricky Houim recovered it for the Ponies.
Two minutes later, back-up running back Jared Weigel punched the ball in from eight yards out. Weigel's touchdown started off a 29-point second quarter outburst by Havre, which essentially ended any chance of a Butte Central comeback.
The Ponies also scored on a 42-yard pass play from Wagner to Mariani, a 90-yard kickoff return by Scott Robinson and two more TD runs by Robinson.
Butte Central managed a touchdown in the second quarter when Stagnoli found J.T. McIntyre from 42 yards out. Still, Havre held a comfortable 44-8 lead at halftime.
In the fourth quarter, back-up quarterback Matt Ritter was able to get the Maroons in the end zone again, when he found Sean Peterson from 11 yards out. Havre's defense limited the Maroons to just 35 yards rushing and 185 total yards.
"I thought our defense played very tough against a pretty talented quarterback," Purcell said. "The difference was definitely turnovers. We were able to capitalize on those turnovers, and it is always nice when you can turn them into points."
The Ponies' opportunistic defense was paced by linebacker Craig Kallenberger, who had 10 tackles, including six solo tackles. Kallenberger also had an interception and two forced fumbles. Mariani was also solid with 10 tackles, including six solo tackles, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble for a touchdown.
Because of the high number of big plays, the Ponies had somewhat modest offensive numbers.
Still, Robinson had a sensational night. He gained 77 yards on just seven carries and scored a pair of TDs on the ground. Robinson also had 113 yards in kickoff returns, including his dazzling return for a touchdown.
Weigel also had his best night of the season offensively. He carried the ball six times for 51 yards and a TD. As a team, the Ponies rushed for 145 yards. "Scotty and Jared both played outstanding running the football," Purcell said. "Our offense wasn't on the field much in this game, but I thought we were very sharp and we ran the ball very well."
Wagner was efficient once again as he continued his hot play throwing the football. He completed five passes on just eight attempts for 146 yards and two touchdowns while committing no turnovers for the sixth game this season. Kallenberger had two catches for 26 yards from his tight end position.
With the Central A championship wrapped up, the 8-0 Ponies will look to complete a perfect regular season on Friday night when they travel to Browning.
Butte Central 0 8 0 6 - 14
Havre 15 29 0 6 - 50
HAV - Coda Tchida 67 pass from Gary Wagner (Wagner kick )
HAV - Marc Mariani 60 fumble return (Mariani)
HAV - Jared Weigel 8 run (Wagner run)
BC - J.T. McIntyre 41 pass from Jake Stagnoli (Alex Murphy pass from Stagnoli)
HAV - Mariani 42 pass from Wagner (Wagner kick)
HAV - Scott Robinson 90 kick return (Wagner kick)
HAV - Robinson 3 run (Wagner kick)
HAV - Robinson 41 run (kick failed)
BC- Sean Peterson 11 pass from Matt Ritter (pass failed)
Rushing - Tyler Wheeler 1-5, Colby Mader 1-3, Jared Weigel 6-51, Gary Wagner 1-0, Scott Robinson 7-77, Mark Larson 2-7, Evan Hinebaugh 1-1, Marc Mariani 1-1.
Passing - Gary Wagner 5-9-146.
Receiving - Coda Tchida 1-67, Marc Mariani 1-45, Craig Kallenberger 2-26, Garrett Neiffer 1-9.