Havre Daily News Sports
The Havre High football team found out a lot about itself in a 21-13 season-opening loss at Whitefish last Saturday afternoon. Now as the Ponies prepare to open the home portion of their schedule, they are likely to find out a lot more.
HHS welcomes basically the top-ranked team in Class to town in the form of the vaunted Sidney Eagles, led by veteran head coach Mike Gear, to Blue Pony Stadium tonight.
Although the official Class A power poll isn't out, the Eagles (1-0) are ranked atop Class A in two different newspaper power polls after a big win over Williston, ND. The Ponies are unranked in either poll.
Last weekend, Havre's defense held its own against a strong and fast Whitefish rushing attack. But the Bulldogs beat the Ponies on big plays like a 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, as well as a long passing touchdown.
However, the Ponies also beat themselves with more than 80 yards of penalties. Those are mistakes that HHS head coach Kevin Sukut said his team can ill afford, especially in another rivalry game like tonight's.
"You just can't afford to beat yourself with mistakes like the ones we made in Whitefish," Sukut said. "Teams like Whitefish and Sidney are just too good for that. They usually capitalize on mistakes.
"This week we have worked hard to correct those things and now we want to hopefully take advantage of breaks when we get them. Penalties and taking care of the football will be very crucial in another big game."
Of course, turnovers will also play a big part in tonight's clash between Havre and Sidney.
Both teams are coming off games in which things were up and down, offensively. Havre was able to move the ball early on Whitefish, but the Bulldogs' excellent defense got to the Ponies' offensive line late in the contest.
Junior quarterback Tanner Donoven had a solid day passing but was under duress much of the second half. If Havre is to find success tonight, it will have to take advantage of what is considered a youthful Sidney defense. The Eagles return just two starters from a very solid defense from a year ago.
"Sidney is always strong on both sides of the ball and they are known for being a very physical football team," Sukut said. "They also have a tremendous head coach. I am sure that they will be a very good defensive football team."
That means Donoven and company will have a strong challenge ahead of them. The Ponies total offensive output in week one did not resemble normal Havre standards. Still, Sukut maintains the Ponies are heading towards being very sound offensively.
"I thought Tanner had a really good game passing the ball against Whitefish," he said. "We were also able to find some success running the football at times. There are just some things that we have to get corrected.
"I have no doubt that we will improve, because these kids are working very hard every day in practice. Their attitude has been great even after the loss to Whitefish."
Despite the loss to the Bulldogs, Sukut was more than pleased with his team's defensive effort in its season-opener. Now the HHS defense will be sternly tested by Gear's strong option attack, led by all-state running back, senior Gresh Melby.
Melby is a standout at 6-0, 170 pounds and he is also the team's top defensive players. He is expected to be one of the top rushers in Class A this season and should give the Blue Pony defense all it can handle tonight.
The return of Melby and what is considered by many as one of the top offensive lines in Class A football doesn't necessarily mean instant success for the Sidney offense.
The Eagles have yet to fully settle on a starting quarterback and are very inexperienced at what is always a crucial position in their offense. Still, Sukut is fully aware of the threat that the Sidney offense poses to his defense.
"Stopping Melby will be critical," Sukut said. "He is such a powerful runner and he has pretty good speed in the open field.
"But Sidney does a lot of things well offensively and they are so well-coached that they seem to have it down to perfection no matter what players they lose each season. They will be a huge challenge for our defense."
But Sukut likes challenges. The Ponies are learning game-by-game more about themselves and finding out where they need to improve. That is what the difficult nonconference schedule, including tonight's matchup with Sidney is all about.
"You want these tough games against rivals and great opponents like Sidney," Sukut said. "We learned a lot about ourselves against Whitefish and the kids are excited about the chance to go out and be much better against Sidney.
"It should be a very tough, physical and good football game."
Tonight's nonconference Class A matchup between Havre High and Sidney is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can also be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.