On Thursday night, Havre High senior Coda Tchida likened Havre's last 30 years in state championship football games to that nasty word that haunted Boston Red Sox fans until this year. You know it rhymes with nurse.
"It is like our school is cursed when it comes to the state championship," Tchida said. "It seems like every time Havre makes it to that game something bad happens."
As everyone knows, even the worst of curses can somehow be lifted eventually, like the Boston Red Sox and the curse of the Bambino.
I'll admit it. I'm a believer in curses and if there indeed was one hanging over Havre High's football program, then Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium the long awaited exorcism finally occurred.
While bad things still happened to the undefeated Blue Ponies during their 34-21 win over Billings Central, this HHS team seemed to have the magic to overcome them.
Havre botched several plays near its own goal line late in the fourth quarter and those mistakes could have easily turned in the Rams' favor. We indeed might still be talking about curses today.
Instead, the Ponies stayed calm and showed resolve and made the one big play they needed in order to change the course of history.
Even early in the contest, it appeared for a moment that the Ponies were dealt a serious blow to their chances when senior Marc Mariani staggered off the field after a serious collision on a kickoff. But true to form in this game, Mariani managed to shake out the cobwebs that clouded his head and he went on to carry the Ponies to a state championship by scoring twice and racking up 220 receiving yards.
When it comes to exercising demons, I believe two things have to be on a team's side - luck and resolve. It appears that both were in Havre's corner this season.
Every winning team, player or coach has to have a little luck on his side. Most of the season, Havre has made its own fortunes by dominating teams from start to finish. On Saturday, lady luck was obviously in the stadium. A perfect example was the roughing-the-kicker penalty committed by the Rams late in the fourth quarter that set up Mariani's game-winning touchdown. One team's misfortune is another team's good fortune. It was the biggest mistake the Rams made all day, probably all season.
The second factor that plays into overcoming a history of struggle is resolve. You can also call it drive, heart, determination or will. No matter what adjective you want to pick, there is no question that this Havre High team had that intangible from the very beginning.
Talk to any one of the players on this Blue Pony team and he will tell you that the only thing that mattered to them from last November until Saturday was winning this state championship for each other, their coach, their school and their community.
"This is an amazing feeling right now," said HHS quarterback Gary Wagner. "It is something we have worked hard for for a long time, and we are happy that we got it done for coach Purcell, our school and all of our fans."
In that way, it is a lot like the Red Sox Rednecks this season. A band of brothers refusing to fail to deliver one of the most coveted and cherished feats a Bostonian could dream of. Of course everyone knows what ended up happening there.
That resolve that the 2004 HHS squad possessed was tested from the opening kickoff of the season. Havre had very high expectations coming into the season from the state and from sportswriters who saddled the Ponies with the No. 1 ranking right out of the box. All they did was manage to keep that ranking wire-to-wire this season.
As the Ponies continued to pile up impressive victories this season, the pressure really started to mount from the community and fans. There is no doubt that people in this town were expecting a state championship all the way back in early October.
"It is amazing how much excitement and hype there is around town," Mariani said. "Everywhere I go people are talking about us and wishing us luck."
For a teenager, that kind of pressure can be overwhelming, and at times I am sure it was for this group. But if Saturday proved anything, it showed that this group of kids could handle the pressure just as easily as they could take advantage of the luck that was dealt their way.
Exorcising the demons of HHS football past wasn't the only thing that took place on the field Saturday afternoon. There was also a little matter of redemption. It has been well documented that the 20 seniors on the HHS roster were bitter about the loss that Havre High suffered in the 2002 state championship game. On Saturday they were able to do what so few people in sports get the chance to do, they made amends.
But these Ponies didn't just set things right for the loss in 2002. For now they made all former players and fans forget the pain of 1991 when HHS went 8-0 and was upset in the opening round of the playoffs. Hopefully, this team made us feel better about the 1995 HHS team that lost in the state championship game in Miles City. The same goes for the 1997 team that came so agonizingly close to delivering a state championship in Hamilton. Anyone who has ever played for the Ponies from 1971 up until now should feel very good about what this team has done.
This Havre High team has erased those bad memories. They have brought joy and excitement to what has already been a very proud and storied football program, just like their predecessors did back in 1970. Their accomplishments should be praised and celebrated.
And at least for the foreseeable future, 2004 will be know as the year the Blue Pony Football curse was lifted.