By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
With the Central A conference championship wrapped up a week early, the No. 1 ranked Havre Blue Ponies will travel to Browning tonight looking to put the finishing touches on a perfect regular season.
The Indians are 0-8 this season and are in the midst of a 18-game losing streak that dates back to the end of the 2002 season. While the outcome of tonight's game may be a forgone conclusion, HHS head coach Troy Purcell is taking no chances on his team slipping up before its first round bye in the 2004 Class A state playoffs.
"We are going to go down there and try to do what we have done all season," Purcell said. "We need to try to get better as a team on offense and defense. Our focus this week is to continue to be sharp right from the start of the game and improve in the areas that we need to be better in."
The Ponies come into tonight's regular season finale with a perfect 8-0 record. It may difficult for them to be much better than they have been. Havre's average margin of victory is an astonishing 37 points per game and they have scored 40 or more points in their last five outings.
Havre's defense is also tops in Class A, holding opponents to a scant seven points per game. Havre's rushing defense has been especially stingy, surrendering less than 30 yards per contest.
Those statistics alone don't spell good news for the Indians who have been on the losing end of multiple lopsided games this season. Still, Purcell insists that Browning will be fired up and ready to welcome the state's most dominant team to its house tonight.
"Browning has had a very difficult season on the field," Purcell said. "But you have to credit their kids and their coaches because no one has mailed this season in.
"Those kids play hard every down and they have a lot of fight in them," Purcell added. "I definitely think they will excited to play us and they really have nothing to lose at this point."
Actually, the Ponies don't have anything to lose either. All four conference championships in Class A were settled last weekend. Joining Havre with first-round byes in the playoffs are Sidney (8-0) from the Eastern A, Polson (8-0) from the Northwest A and Frenchtown (7-1) from the Southwest A.
Billings Central, Stevensville, Corvallis and Libby have also locked up playoff spots heading into the final weekend of the season. The final two spots in the Central A are still up for grabs. Belgrade, Lewistown and Butte Central are all still alive and who winds up getting in will depend on the outcome of the Belgrade/Butte Central match-up tonight.
In the Eastern A, Miles City will play Hardin tonight with the winner qualifying for the playoffs and the same goes for the No. 3 spot in the Northwest A with Whitefish and Columbia Falls playing for that final berth tonight.
With Havre's playoff fate already decided, it may seem logical that Purcell would rest his starters significantly tonight in Browning. But with a bye in the first round next weekend, he says that it is important for his team to get some work in on the field against the struggling Indians.
"We are going to have 14 days without a game by the time we play our first playoff game" Purcell said. "So we need to go out tonight and make sure we play hard and play well so that we build some momentum and stay in a rhythm heading into the playoffs."
Tonight's game between Havre and Browning will kick off at 7 p.m. in Browning. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.