Havre Daily News Sports
Friday night's Central A conference football game with the Browning Indians was one that the Havre Blue Ponies had to win. After a rough start to the 2005 season, the Ponies could ill-afford to drop their conference opener to the upstart Indians.
For a time, it looked like the worst case scenario might just happen to Havre. The Ponies trailed Browning 10-7 at halftime and the score remained that way throughout the third quarter. Things got so bleak for Havre that they managed negative three total yards in the third period.
But the turning point in the game came when HHS senior linebacker Evan Hinebauch stripped quarterback Scott Not Afraid of the ball, picked up the fumble and raced untouched into the end zone for what would be the game-winning touchdown in a 27-10 win for the Ponies at Blue Pony Stadium.
"There is no doubt that Evan Hinebauch's play was a huge spark for our team," said HHS head coach Kevin Sukut. "Our offense was really struggling at that point. But he (Hinebauch) made a tremendous defensive play and got us the lead and that really picked our whole team up."
Senior wide receiver Scott Miller, who also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass later in the fourth quarter, agreed with his head coach's assessment of Hinebauch's play.
"Evan forcing that fumble and scoring really turned things around for us and essentially won us the game," Miller said. "But our whole defense had a part in that win because they just played really well as they have all season."
As bad as the third quarter was for Havre, the game did not start out that way. For the first time this season the Blue Ponies got off on the right foot when senior Sean Peterson returned a Browning punt 66 yards for a touchdown that gave Havre a first quarter lead of 7-0. Peterson's return electrified a rain-soaked HHS crowd and also dazzled his head coach.
"We have been close to breaking a punt for a score ever game," Sukut said. "So it was only a matter of time until Sean got one to go the distance.
"That was really big for our team from a standpoint of confidence because it was really nice to actually get out in front for a change."
But as quickly as Peterson gave his team some much-needed momentum, Browning proved that it wasn't going to be outdone. On their ensuing possession, the Indians running game kicked into high gear. And on a third-and-long play, Browning senior Brad Peterson broke through the HHS defensive line and scampered 49 yards untouched to tie the game at 7-7.
From that point the Indians pretty much controlled the rest of the half. Marcus Madman gave Browning the go-ahead score when he kicked 31-yard field goal at the 8:38 mark of the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the HHS offense fell back into a familiar pattern for the rest of the first half and it carried over through the third quarter. The Havre High offense was hampered by a multitude of offensive penalties and dropped balls or errant passes that could have possibly been turned into big gains.
"It was kind of the same old story for us for much of the game," Sukut said. "Our offense was just not very sharp and no one was really able to step up and make a big play when we really needed."
Thankfully, Havre had Hinebauch. His forced fumble was part of a huge night for the senior. Aside from his game-winning score he also carried the ball seven times for 58 yards and scored the last of three HHS touchdowns in the final stanza when he ripped off a 39-yard run late in the game. His standout night also included eight solo tackles and a quarterback sack.
"Evan Hinebauch had a tremendous game on both sides of the ball," Sukut said. "His fumble recovery really ignited our defense after that and fortunately our offense was also able to do some things in the fourth quarter."
Hinebauch was filling in at running back for the injured Jared Weigel. Weigel played on defense for Havre but his ankle was not up to carrying the ball. Havre also lost running back Mark Larson to a concussion. Larson was taken to Northern Montana Hospital in the fourth quarter when he was hit in the head on the HHS sideline. His status at print time is still uncertain for this week's game, according to Sukut.
While the Ponies' offensive woes were still part of their win against Browning, they still managed their best yardage output of the season. Havre amassed 366 total yards against a solid Browning defense.
Tanner Donovan completed 10 passes on the night for a 112 yards and a touchdown. Miller led the receiving corpwith four catches for 60 yards and a late score. He also had an interception from his cornerback position.
Defensively, the Ponies got a standout performance from a host of players. Cody Seely led the way with 11 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Larson also came up huge for the Ponies with 12 tackles and Austin Small added 11. Junior Michael Erickson also registered a pair of sacks on the night.
The win over Browning improves Havre's overall record to 2-2 on the season and they are off to a 1-0 start in conference play. And Sukut is looking at things from both sides of the coin.
"We are very happy to get this win, because Browning came here to upset us and they played very well," he said. "They are a very solid football team, but our kids showed a lot of heart to hang in there and fight to get the job done.
"I believe we are headed in the right direction, but we also know that there are still a lot of areas we need to get better in and time is running short," Sukut added. "There are some very tough games ahead and we are going to have to be ready to play four quarters of good football to be successful."
Still, Miller said that Friday's come-from-behind win is a step in the right direction for the mental attitude of his team.
"I think with these last two wins we're gaining a lot of confidence as a team," Miller said. "I know we have a ways to go, but the way we were able to come back and beat Browning will do a lot for the whole team's confidence level."
Havre High will now prepare to host the Livingston Rangers on Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium. The game against Livingston will be part of Havre High's 2005 homecoming festivities.
Browning 7 3 0 0 - 10
Havre 7 0 0 20 - 27
HAV - Sean Peterson 66 punt return (Bruce Beecher kick)
BRO - Brad Petersen 49 run (Marcus Madman kick)
BRO - FG Madman 31
HAV - Evan Hinebauch 4 fumble return (Beecher kick)
HAV - Scott Miller 20 pass from Tanner Donovan (run failed)
HAV - Hinebauch 39 run (Beecher kick)
Havre High Leaders
Passing - Tanner Donovan 10-25-112-1
Rushing - Evan Hinebauch 7-58, Mark Larson 6-62
Receiving - Scott Miller 4-60, Mark Larson 2-30.