Havre Daily News Sports
The growing period and the growing pains that the Havre High football team have endured over the last three weeks have hopefully come to an end.
Tonight, the Blue Ponies season starts for real with the chase for the Central A conference championship and a coveted berth in the 2005 Class A playoffs.
Not only does the conference season officially kick off this weekend, but the 1-2 Blue Ponies welcome an unlikely formidable foe to Blue Pony Stadium in the form of the Browning Indians.
Yes, Browning (0-3) is a team to be reckoned with for the first time in several years, according to HHS head coach Kevin Sukut.
"There is no question that Browning is a much improved football team this season," Sukut said. "I have had conversations with two head coaches who have faced them this year, including Libby's head coach (Neil Fuller). He was very impressed with their (Browning) team.
"They will present a huge challenge for our defense, because of their size up front and because they are a team that possesses a lot of speed on the offensive side of the ball."
While Browning may be improved, the Indians are still searching for their first win of the season. They have come close already this year while playing a very tough nonconference schedule.
The Indians lost their opener to a very good Polson team and then nearly knocked off Whitefish at home. Last weekend Browning lost to Libby. And while they are still a much-improved team, Browning still hasn't won a game since the end of the 2002 season.
"They are a run first team but they run on the perimeter and not so much inside the tackles," Sukut said. "Stopping their rushing attack and getting their offense off the field has been our focus all week. Our defense is up to it. I expect they will play well."
The main reason the Indians' rushing attack has been so successful this year is the play of their offensive line.
Browning has three players on the line that weigh more than 260 pounds. Junior Rem Boushie is the best of the group at 270 pounds, while seniors Brian Bullshoe and Jesse Harwood go 290 and 280 pounds, respectively.
Ryan Augare and Roger Mad Plume are two running backs that are always a threat to break a play wide open.
Browning's offense may present challenges to the HHS defense tonight, but it is the Havre high offense that has been a challenge to itself.
Even though the Ponies defeated Glendive in the game's final seconds last Friday night, their offense has been less-than-potent to say the least.
Havre has garnered over 100 yards of offensive penalties in each of its first three games. Those kind of mistakes will have to be dealt with if the Ponies are to have success in the Central A conference or any other night this season.
"It has been our main focal point all week," Sukut said of the miscues. "We have to clean up those kind of mistakes now, because we're into conference play and we need our offense to be sharp."
Penalties are absolute drive stoppers on offense.
"We haven't scored a lot of points this season and it is because a lot of good drives have been killed by penalties," Sukut said. "We have worked very hard in practice this week to remedy that situation, and now it needs to carry over to the game."
If the Ponies can get those mental mistakes cleaned up, fans should see an offense that will put the ball in the air a little bit more as the season goes along.
Quarterback Tanner Donovan has become a little more confident with each passing game, while wide receivers Sean Peterson and Scott Miller have been catching more balls as a result.
The Ponies will also look to the air a little more often because of an injury suffered by senior running back Jared Weigel in Glendive. Weigel severely sprained an ankle, and even though he is still in some pain, he will play tonight.
"Jared is only about 75 percent," Sukut said. "But he really wants to play in this game, so we're going to have him more on the defensive side of the ball and see how he does. I doubt he'll get any snaps with the offense against Browning."
The Ponies' focus this week has been on getting their offense turned around. If that happens, they could escape with a win and a 1-0 start to the conference season.
Sukut said it would be a huge for a team that lost its first two games of the season, but it would also be huge to get a leg up in the conference standings. Despite the Ponies' 1-2 record, they are still a team that wants to make the playoffs.
"Our goals haven't changed," Sukut said. "We want to make the playoffs and that starts tonight.
"We have prepared this week to come out and play our best game of the season and get a win in solid fashion," he added. "I feel very confident that you're going to see our team play very well right from the start against Browning."
Tonight's game between Havre High and Browning will kickoff at 7 at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.