Havre Daily News Sports
Memories will be made for former Montana High School football standouts from the Class of 2005 on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls when the annual Montana Shrine Bowl kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
Those high school standouts include four Havre High graduates that all contributed to Havre's first state championship since 1970 when the Blue Ponies defeated Billings Central last fall in Havre for the 2004 Class A state championship.
All four Blue Ponies will also be playing college football this coming fall. One other special circumstance is that all four members of the East team will be coached by former HHS head coach Troy Purcell. Purcell is now officially the head coach at Class AA Bozeman High School.
And because the East squad is under the direction of Purcell and former HHS defensive coordinator Jason Christenson and current HHS assistant Ryan Joy, expect to see footballs flying all over the field Saturday night.
Former HHS quarterback and Carroll College signee Gary Wagner will start for the East. Wagner is coming off of a dazzling performance last month in the Badlands Bowl in Dickinson, N.D. He set the record for passing yards and pass attempts in the game as well as completions. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns.
Wagner will also have familiar targets to throw to on Saturday with the likes of fellow teammate and future University of Montana receiver Marc Mariani.
Mariani caught two balls from Wagner at the Badlands Bowl, and is sure to see more in this game. He broke almost every receiving record in Havre High history racking up more than 1,200 yards this past season.
Defensively, Havre will be well represented with future University of Mary cornerback Coda Tchida starting at one corner and future Montana State University-Northern defensive back Ted Wells starting at safety.
Tchida picked off five passes this season and was also Havre's best kick returner. Wells displayed a willingness to mix it up on defense and special teams with several big hits and tackles.
All four players know that Saturday night will be very special not only because of the privilege of being selected to play in the prestigious all-star game, but because they will play with each other and for their head coach for the last time.
"This game means a lot," said Marc Mariani. "Anybody who plays high school football wants to play in this game. But to play with three of my teammates and play one more time for Coach Purcell is really special."
Of course just playing high school football one more time will be special for every player on Saturday night. And several Montana stars will be suiting up one last time as high school players.
The East team is loaded with talent, including the likes of Fort Benton's Brandon Utterback, Billings Skyview Shawn Lebsock and Billings Senior's Derrick Green.
Utterback, who will join Mariani in the fall in Missoula will suit up at running back along with Malta's Kevin Hanson and Billings West's D.J. Bergren.
Green, a Montana State signee, played with Wagner and Mariani in the Badlands Bowl and was one of the top receivers in Class AA. Joining the receiving corp is former Great Falls High standout Brian Bollwit.
The East has two of the state's top defensive players in Skyview's Shawn Lebsock and CMR standout Austin Mullins. Both will be heading to the Grizzlies in the fall. Also on the East defense is another UM signee in Baker's Shann Schillinger.
Besides Wells, MSU-Northern has two more signees on the East defense as Fort Benton's Khalin Anderson and Jackson Ledgerwood will be headed to Havre in the fall. Ledgerwood was selected as a defensive linemen, while Anderson will join Wells in the defensive backfield.
The West will combat the East talent with Missoula Big Sky twins Ty and Jace Palmer, who are UM bound. Ty Palmer will suit up at defensive back and may see some time at receiver, while Jace Palmer will play linebacker.
Offensively, Big Sky's Tom Langan and Missoula Sentinel's Garrett Graves will share the quarterback duties. Travis Browne of Stevensville will lead the receivers, while Jordan Clary of Butte and Sean Hanrahan of Bozeman will suit up at running back.
Havre High will also have a pair of cheerleaders on the sidelines cheering on the East squad. Katybeth Courtnage and Megan Hickman have been selected to the East cheerleading squad.
Havre will also be represented in the referee crew as longtime local official Cal Wirtzberger will be making his second appearance in the game. Wirtzberger has been a football official for the last 25 years and served as the District 4 regional director for the past six years. Also joining Wirtzberger is former Havre High coach and Blue Sky/J-I football coach Bill Isbell. Isbell recently accepted a teaching position in Geyser.
The Montana Shrine Bowl pregame will start at 7 p.m. with kick-off set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.