Havre Daily News Sports
Winning streaks are made to be broken, rivalries go both ways and sometimes, debuts don't turn out exactly how they are planned.
All of those things happened to the Havre High football team as it opened defense of its 2004 Class A state football championship with a 21-13 loss to the Whitefish Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon in Whitefish.
The Bulldogs' surprising defense registered seven sacks on new HHS quarterback Tanner Donoven and limited Havre's offense to less than 200 total yards, spoiling new Havre High Head coach Kevin Sukut's debut.
The loss to Whitefish also means the Ponies relinquished the BNSF traveling trophy for the first time in three years. Still, with all the disappointment surrounding the season opener, Sukut maintained that there is no reason to hit the panic button in Havre.
"There is an awful lot of disappointment around our football team, because we know we just didn't play as well as we could have," Sukut said. "The kids and I know that this was a very winnable game for us, but we just made too many mistakes. You just can't do that against a quality team like Whitefish."
The Ponies are already in the process of putting the loss behind them.
"We went back to work tonight to get ready for Sidney and the attitude is really positive," Sukut said. "All of the things that went wrong in Whitefish are things we can correct and we will. We're looking at this loss as simply a bump in the road."
Things weren't all bad for the Ponies in the early going. Havre capitalized early on one of two Bulldog punting miscues. Jared Weigel blocked up a punt and set up Mark Larson's score from 1-yard out to give Havre an early 7-0 lead. But Whitefish's special team's misfortunes quickly turned over to Havre as Cody Idol immediately answered Havre's score by taking the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
"Special teams are something that hurt both teams and that is to be expected early in the season," Sukut said. "But that is no excuse. That kickoff return really hurt us because it took away any momentum we felt we had after we had just scored."
Indeed, the Ponies would then fall behind early in the second quarter. Zach Fennerly hit star receiver Chris Hicks on a 53-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
Havre got its offense going a little in the third quarter when Donoven hit Weigel for a 32-yard TD. The Ponies failed to convert the extra point, leaving them trailing 14-13.
Whitefish put together a stellar third-quarter drive that would ultimately ice the game. Tim Lehner capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge that put the Bulldogs out in front for good.
Despite having several positive drives in the fourth quarter, Havre's offense was stymied by by Whitefishm, as Mike McCracken and Brad Kuntz each had three sacks. Sukut admitted that the Bulldog defense was certainly a big factor as was the Ponies' offensive execution.
"Whitefish really wore us down as the game went on," Sukut said. "We did a good job of picking up their blitzes in the first half, but as the game went on, we got tired up front and things really started to break down."
"They have a tremendous defensive football team," he added. "But we also shot ourselves in the foot at times as well. We didn't play horrible offensively, but we had 85 yards in penalties and made some mistakes that really hurt good drives."
While Havre's defense did keep the Bulldogs in check for most of the game, it was the big play that seemingly did the Ponies in. Aside from the kickoff return, Fennerly went 6 for 12 on the day for 156 yards with 53 of those coming on the score that Hicks hauled in. Hicks also had a big day receiving with 104 yards on just five catches.
"Our defense put us in some really good positions," Sukut said. "Our offense just couldn't capitalize on it. Against a good team like Whitefish, you just have to."
Donoven was solid despite being under heavy pressure most of the second half. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 167 yards and a score in his first career start at HHS.
"Despite the loss, I saw some good things from our offense," Sukut said. "I thought our defense played well the whole game. The nice thing is that with a game like this we learned a lot about ourselves as a football team, and we learned a lot about what we need to do to improve.
"These kids aren't afraid to work hard and they have great attitudes," he added. "So I am confident that we'll get these things fixed and be prepared for Sidney on Friday night."
The Blue Ponies (0-1) will open the home portion of their 2005 schedule at 7 p.m. on Friday night when they host Eastern A powerhouse Sidney at Blue Pony Stadium.
BULLDOGS 21, BLUE PONIES 13
Havre 7 0 6 0 - 13
Whitefish 7 7 7 0 - 21
Havre - Jared Weigel 3 run (Bruce Beecher kick)
Whitefish - Cody Idol 95 kickoff return (Daniel Jones kick), 7:02
Whitefish - Chris Hicks 53 pass from Zach Fennelly (Jones kick), 6:22
Havre - Weigel 31 pass from Tanner Donovan (kick failed)
Whitefish - Tim Lehner 1 run (Jones kick), 1:05