Havre Daily News Sports
While homecoming at Havre High School is always a cause for celebration, the Havre High football team will have more on its mind tonight when it hosts the Livingston Rangers at 7 at Blue Pony Stadium.
The Ponies (2-2, 1-0) are much more concerned with playing well and improving on last week's come-from-behind win over Browning, than they are about dances, queens and parades.
The Ponies may have been elated after a 27-10 win over the Indians last week that put them out to a 1-0 start in Central A conference play. But in that game, the HHS offense continued to sputter for most of the game. Blue Pony head coach Kevin Sukut said the time has come for that to change.
"We need to start having things come together for us offensively and I believe we are really close," Sukut said. "Things got a little better in the fourth quarter against Browning, and practice has been very positive this week.
"We have put in some overtime offensively in practice this week to ensure that we are sharper," he added. "We have been very close to making some very big plays the last few weeks. Now we need everything to come together, because the season is getting a lot shorter and we have some big games ahead of us."
Don't misunderstand Sukut. Tonight's homecoming showdown with the Rangers is the first on the list of remaining big games for the Ponies, despite the Rangers' 0-4 record. Livingston has come into the 2005 season struggling to score points, just as it did in a 1-8 2004 campaign.
However, the Rangers showed signs of life on Monday when they nearly knocked off second-ranked Lewistown at home. The game was played on Monday because Livingston experienced a dangerous lightning storm on Saturday night that ultimately canceled the contest. In that game, the Rangers led all the way until the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, when the Eagles finally managed to pull out the 16-12 win.
Livingston's performance on Monday, combined with its style of play is more than enough to be cause for concern for Sukut and the Ponies.
"They played a great football game against a very good Lewistown team," Sukut said. "There is no doubt that they can play.
"And the style of offense that they run makes them a very dangerous football team every game," Sukut added. "They will try to pound the football at you and wear you down until they can bust a big play."
Indeed, the Rangers don't do anything flashy, but they are always efficient on offense. The double-wing offense that Livingston employs, focuses on rushing the football almost constantly and occasionally mixing in a vertical pass. Livingston's main offensive weapon is the fact that it can grind the tempo of the game way down and keep opposing offenses off of the field.
The Rangers have some experienced players back from last season to help with the offense. Quarterback Scott Schleicher is in his third season calling signals for the Rangers. Running backs Eli Isaly and Mychal McNamee return to the backfield. Both are speed backs capable of breaking a big play. The trio combined to rush for 1,200 yards last season.
As threatening as the Ranger offense is, the HHS defense is tops in the Central A in most defensive categories this season, and it will be called upon again tonight.
"I think our defense matches up very well with Livingston," Sukut said. "The key to defending their offense is for everybody to understand and do their jobs. Its assignment football and if everyone is on the same page I think our defense will have a very good night."
Of course the Blue Pony offense will have to match its defensive counterpart if Havre's season is to continue on the right course. The Blue Ponies aren't exactly lighting up scoreboards this season. Nevertheless, Sukut insists that his team is right where it needs to be at this point in the season.
"We have been working hard to improve offensively and I think we are very close," he said. "The key for us is getting off to a good start early. We have done that all year defensively and we have now done it with special teams with Sean Peterson's punt return last week.
"Now it is time for the offense to be sharp early," he added. "We need to get off on the right foot and cut out the penalties and early mistakes. When that happens, I think you'll see our offenseput some points on the board and get rolling. And when that happens, I believe we are going to be a team that will be very tough to beat."
On the injury front, the Ponies will still have senior Jared Weigel for a limited amount of plays. Weigel injured his ankle two weeks ago in Glendive and played on defense only against Browning.
Sukut said that Weigel will likely see the same amount of defensive action this week and could be used sparingly on offense.
Starting running back and linebacker, Mark Larson, who sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter against Browning was cleared by doctors on Monday and will be in the lineup.
"Jared is still troubled by his ankle, but he is doing a little better," Sukut said. "He is probably going to be in some pain with it the rest of the season ,so we'll be very cautious with how we use him.
"It was very good news that Mark Larson was cleared to play," Sukut added. "He has been a big part of our success so far this season. He has been at practice all week and is showing no effects from the hit."
Tonight's Homecoming game between Livingston and Havre will kick off at 7 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.