Havre Daily News Sports
Three weeks ago the Havre High football team wasn't focused on winning the Central A Conference championship. At that point in the season, Havre was just trying to win its first game under new head coach Kevin Sukut.
Things have changed dramatically since then. The Ponies have reeled off three straight wins and sit tied atop the conference standings with Butte Central at 2-0. Tonight, Havre's quest for another Central A title gets infinitely more difficult when it travels to No. 2-ranked Belgrade.
While Havre is in the driver's seat at the moment as far as the conference standings and Class A playoff picture is concerned, Sukut said his team needs to find a way to come home from Belgrade with a win if things are to remain that way.
”Our kids know this is a very big game,“ Sukut said. ”We have talked about the fact that we are in a really good position right now.
”But these next three weeks will determine our season,“ he added. ”And we need to go down to Belgrade and take care of business against a very good football team.“
Taking care of the Panthers (4-1) on their home field, on homecoming no less, won't be easy. Belgrade's lone loss came at the hands of Butte Central, and the Panthers are coming off of a 42-21 drubbing of highly touted Lewistown last week. In that game, the Panthers rolled up 380 yards on the ground, and they will look to do the same tonight against the Ponies.
”Belgrade doesn't like to throw the ball very often,“ Sukut said. ”They were able to pretty much run it right down Lewistown's throat last week. They are a pretty physical football team up front and they have some very good running backs.
”But our defense has played well all season and we feel confident that they will again this week,“ he added. ”Our game plan is to slow that rushing attack down and force them into some situations where they have to pass the ball. If we can do that, we should have some success slowing them down.“
Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage will be key to deciding the outcome of tonight's game.
While Havre will have to slow down Belgrade's running backs, they will also need to get their own running game going. Last week against Livingston, the Ponies got a solid night rushing the football from Mark Larson and Evan Hinebauch. That opened things up for quarterback Tanner Donovan, and consequently, he had one of his night's throwing the football.
Sukut said that it will need to be more of the same tonight if Havre's offense is going to stay on track.
”We need to keep our rushing attack going,“ Sukut said. ”Having a sound running game really allows us to make some big plays when we throw the football and it takes a lot of pressure off of Tanner.
”This game is going to be won or lost at the line of scrimmage,“ he added. ”Whoever wins the battle up front is going to be in control of the football game.“
The battle for control of the line of scrimmage, and game tempo may be one of tonight's keys to success for both teams. Talent and big plays might also play a huge part in what has become a rivalry game for both teams. And the Panthers have plenty of talent.
Belgrade coach Matt Hollowell has revamped his offense to a Wing-T formation, and the Panthers are running it well so far this season. That is thanks in large part to a bevy of talented running backs, led by the 215-pound Zach Halgren. Halgren also stars on defense for Belgrade from his linebacker position. Scatbacks Ben Ward and Tyler Bates are the speed backs in the Panthers option attack, and both are capable of breaking off big runs. Senior quarterback Derek Erickson (6-1, 175) is also a dangerous ball carrier.
”There is no doubt that Belgrade has a lot of speed and talent at the running back position,“ Sukut said. ”Our defense will have its hands full. I think it will be critical for us to make key stops on first and second down.
”Offensively we will have to make sure we continue to improve upon eliminating mistakes,“ he added. ”This is a crucial point in the season and in big games like this you just can't have costly turnovers and penalties.“
Tonight's matchup will also have serious implications towards the conference championship and the playoffs as well. Belgrade can ill-afford to lose another Central A conference game. With a win, the Blue Ponies could conceivably play for the conference championship in two weeks when they visit Butte Central. A loss to Belgrade would make next week's regular season, home finale against Lewistown a must-win game.
”There is a lot riding on this game for both teams,“ Sukut said. ”We are in control of our own destiny right now and we want to keep it that way.
”Plus this is a rivalry game and it is Belgrade's homecoming,“ he added. ”So we're expecting a very close, hard-fought game.“
Tonight's game between the Blue Ponies and Panthers will get under way at 7 in Belgrade. The game can be heard locally on 610 AM KOJM.