Havre Daily News Sports
Saturday night may be one of the most anticipated opening games in the history of Havre High football.
Not only is it the first game of what promises to be an exciting year for the talented Blue Ponies, but it is also the unveiling of the newly remodeled Blue Pony Stadium.
This summer the historic venue received a major upgrade complete with new bleachers, locker rooms and bathroom facilities.
As for the game itself, Havre will host Eastern A conference-foe Glendive for its first test of the young season.
The Ponies are picked by many to not only capture the Central A crown this season, but to make a serious run at a Class A state championship.
All the preseason hype is largely due to the fact the Ponies return a solid and talented group of seniors, which gives them one of the deepest overall teams in Class A this season.
Still, veteran HHS head coach Troy Purcell knows that the end of August is a long way from the playoffs which don't begin until November.
"We have gone into seasons favored before and things didn't work out so this team knows that anything can happen," Purcell said. "But we do have the capability of being a very good football team.
"We have a lot of talented players on this team and a lot of experience," Purcell added. "We are fortunate to also have a lot of depth at different positions and that could be a big key to our success this year."
The Ponies come into the season led by one of the top-rated quarterbacks in Class A in senior Gary Wagner.
Wagner threw for well over 2,000 yards last season and also had tremendous success on the ground.
Despite losing his favorite target in all-state wideout Daine Solomon to graduation, Wagner has a full compliment of capable receivers and backs.
Seniors Marc Mariani and Coda Tchida will be joined at wideout by junior Scott Miller, as well as newcomers Ted Wells and Garret Neiffer.
The Ponies are equally as deep at running back led by senior Scott Robinson along with Craig Kallenberger, Jared Weigel and Brett Michels.
The Ponies also boast a very good offensive line, meaning they should be the same explosive offensive team as the past three years.
"We will definitely still be very good offensively," Purcell said. "But I think will be much more of a balanced team because of how good and deep we are at running back."
Even as good as the Ponies were offensively last year and as good as they should be this year, Purcell believes that Havre's strongest side of the ball may be on defense.
"I definitely think we will be even better defensively," Purcell said. "We have some very good players at all of the positions and we have some real experienced and talented players, especially at linebacker and on the line."
Not only is Havre experienced defensively, it returns one of the state's top defensive backs in Mariani, who led the team in tackles last season, and also intercepted an astonishing 11 passes.
As a unit, the Ponies will be very good at linebacker. Mader, Michels and Kallenberger all started last season and should create one of the best linebacker trios in Class A football.
The Ponies defensive line is also talented despite the loss of all-conference starter Matt Boucher to graduation. Chad Seely, Rick Hoium, Jared Weigel, Tyler Wheeler, Bill Zuelke, Chad Stratton, Bryden Vukasin and Byron Wright will combine to give Havre a ton of depth on the line.
With all of the talent and depth returning, it is easy to see why so many people are pointing at the Blue Ponies to be in the hunt for an elusive Class A state championship.
But Purcell is still a firm believer in taking things one step at a time and Saturday night's tilt against Glendive is the first step in that process.
"We have just been working hard on being prepared for Glendive right now," Purcell said. "The first game of the season is so tough to prepare for because you don't really know what your opponent is going to do against you."
The Red Devils did not make the playoffs in 2003, finishing behind Miles City, Billings Central, Sidney and Hardin in the conference standings. The Red Devils will have to replace graduated quarterback Bryce Fast, but they do return standout wide receiver and all-conference performer Blaine Berg (6-0, 190).
Glendive will also be looking for a little redemption on Saturday night. Last season they were routed by Havre 35-0 on homecoming at Blue Pony Stadium. The win gave the Ponies possession of the Moore Trophy which will once again be on the line on Saturday night.
The Moore trophy was donated by former Havre resident Lewis Moore, who owned the Rose Theater in Glendive and the old Orpheum and Lyric Theaters in Havre. The trophy is given to the annual winner of the Havre-Glendive contest. The trophy kind of faded out of importance for close to 20 years as Havre jumped to Class AA and back down to Class A, but remained in a different conference than Glendive.
"We have watched film of Glendive's last two games of last season," Purcell said. "Offensively, we are going to use a lot of different formations against them. Defensively, we have tried to keep it pretty simple this week. We went over a lot of base stuff and we'll make some adjustments as the game goes along.
"We're just really excited to get out there and play this game," Purcell added. "We have worked really hard to be prepared and we know that Glendive will be ready to play. The kids are fired up and looking forward to getting the season started.
Kickoff between the Havre and Glendive is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.