Havre Daily News Sports Editor
When the Havre High football team kicks off its final home game of the season tonight at 7 against archrival Lewistown, the circumstances for both teams are pretty simple. The winner goes to the Class A state playoffs and the loser likely misses out on the party.
With both Butte Central and Belgrade locked into the playoffs, there is only one spot remaining from the Central A Conference and it comes down to the two teams on the field in Havre tonight.
”We're both fighting for our playoff lives, essentially,“ said Havre High head coach Kevin Sukut. ”I look for this game to be a real dogfight.“
Indeed, both the Ponies and Eagles suffered major setbacks last weekend. Havre (3-3) had a golden opportunity to play for a Central A championship, but lost that chance when Belgrade downed the Ponies 27-10. Lewistown comes in the loser of two straight games, at Belgrade and Butte Central.
The Eagles were red-hot to start the season, winning their first four games of the year. The Ponies had to turn their season around after losing their first two games. Now the teams collide tonight with the playoffs at stake.
”Lewistown has had a rough couple of weeks,“ Sukut said. ”But I expect that they will be up for this game because both teams are in the same situation.
”They will come in here fired up and ready to play,“ he added. ”But we know what is at stake and we have had a very good week of practice. I think we are very well-prepared for this game and I have a lot of confidence in our kids to go out and take care of business.“
Just like the simple playoff scenario surrounding tonight's pivotal Central A showdown, the HHS game plan is also very simple: stop Lewistown quarterback Colby Tognetti. The 5-10 senior is leading the Central A in most offensive categories, including passing yards and total offense. Tognetti has had a monster season throwing the ball, and Lewistown's offense has become extremely dangerous as a result.
”The thing that jumps out at me about Tognetti is his arm strength,“ Sukut said. ”He is tremendously strong and he can throw the ball vertically down the field.
”He has had a great season,“ Sukut added. ”The key for us on defense will be to not let them beat us with the big play, which he is more than capable of.“
The Eagles also have several playmakers on offense for Tognetti to throw to. His favorite target is senior Jourdan Feller. Senior running back Dustin Scotten is a returning all-conference player and has had an excellent year rushing the football.
”We have worked very hard all week on defending the passing game,“ Sukut said. ”We have had to face four straight teams that run a wing offense, so this is a different week for us.
”Lewistown is such a dangerous team because of the vertical pass and the big play,“ he added. ”But our defense will be up to it. They have been playing well all year.“
Offensively, the Ponies have continued to have their ups and downs this season. After a dominant performance two weeks ago against Livingston, the HHS offense struggled for most of the Belgrade outing. Because of the inconsistency and Lewistown's tendency to score on big plays, Sukut said establishing a running game will be key for the Ponies tonight. And Havre gets a little help in that department as senior Jared Weigel's injured ankle is feeling better than it has in weeks.
”We have had a lot of success this year when we rush the football well,“ Sukut said. ”It takes a lot of pressure off of our quarterback and allows our passing game to do more things.
”It will be key for us to get the running game going against Lewistown,“ he added. ”We need to keep their offense off the field and establish some good, strong drives down the field.“
Obviously, motivation for either team won't be a problem with a spot in the playoffs riding on tonight's outcome. The Ponies, however, might have a little extra motivation because tonight is the final regular season home game of the year and Havre will honor its seniors at halftime.
”Our kids will be very fired up to play this game,“ Sukut said. ”They know there is a lot at stake.
”We have a very strong senior class and we have talked all year about this season being their turn to make their mark on Havre High football,“ he added. ”So I know they will play with a lot of emotion and intensity against Lewistown.“
The 20 seniors on the Blue Pony football roster are: Jess McLain, Logan Grant, Scott Ladenburg, Sean Peterson, Josh Morse, Dru Ita, Bruce Beecher, Scott Miller, Frank Lippy, Bill Siebrasse, Jeremy Giardina, Jared Weigel, Mark Larson, Austin Small, Nick Martin, Brice Molitor, Dan Otto, Ben Lowen, Cody Seely and Derek Verploegen.
Tonight's game between Havre and Lewistown is scheduled to kick off at 7 at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.