Fourth-ranked Blue Ponies can clinch a berth in the Class A football playoffs with a win tonight against pesky Belgrade Panthers
Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
High school football games don’t get much bigger than this. Tonight at Blue Pony Stadium, the No. 4-ranked Havre High football team will take the field with a chance at redemption. Last season the Ponies missed the post-season in part because of a critical late-season loss at Belgrade. A win on homecoming night will help erase a lot of bad memories as the Ponies will lock up a playoff spot and take a big step towards winning the Central A championship. “It’s a huge game for both teams,” HHS head coach Kevin Sukut said. “We start out the season with a lot of goals and our first goal is to make the playoffs. And we can take care of that goal with a win.” The Panthers have won three-out-offive games against the Ponies recently, but in that stretch, they have not won in Blue Pony Stadium, and what better opportunity than on homecoming in a game with big-time playoff implications. “There is definitely no love lost between the two teams,” Sukut said. “So, I think our kids are going to come out ready to play. It’s kind of a tough week due to all the distractions because of homecoming. But they have handled them really well and I think they are excited about the opportunity they have.” Belgrade (3-2 overall, 1-1 in conference) comes into the game right in the thick of the Class A playoff hunt. The Panthers are tied for third in the Central A, and a win against the Ponies would put them in an enviable position as they close out the season against Livingston and Browning, both of whom are winless in conference play. The Panthers come into the game ranked fourth in the conference in total offense, but they boast two of the league’s Top 10 rushers in Jason Jolliff and James Armstrong. Jolliff is sixth in the conference with 296 yards and Armstrong is ninth in the conference with 284 yards. “They are as good a team as we have played all season long,” Sukut said. “They are going to present us with a lot of challenges on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they rely a lot on their running game, but they are also pretty good at mixing in the pass as well.” Quarterback Mike Haderlie ranks fourth in the conference with 474 passing yards, 233 of which have gone to receiver Brad Smith, who is fourth in the conference in receiving with 233 yards. So the Panthers will present the Blue Pony defense, who is allowing only 153 total yards per gametops in the Central A, with much more than just a one-dimensional offensive attack.
“Stopping their running game is the first thing we need to focus on,” Sukut said. “They throw the ball and they have a lot of athletes, but our first concern is their run game because we want to stop them and force them to be really one-dimensional throwing the football.” The Ponies (4-1 overall, 2-0 in conference) boast by far the best defense in the conference in yards and points. They surrender only 100 yards per game on the ground and a little over 53 yards per game through the air. The Ponies also have stud linebacker Evan Hinebauch, who is leading the conference in tackles with 50. On offense, the Ponies will have to deal with a defense they have yet to see this season. The Panthers will line up with three down lineman and five linebackers in certain situations to try and shut down the Havre running game. “It is something we haven’t seen this season,” Sukut said. “They had a lot of success against Lewistown against it last week and it is designed to contain our running game. It will force us to throw a bit more and we will spread them out a little bit, but we also believe we will be able to sustain our success on the ground.” A big key to that success is Hinebauch, as the two-way star also ranks second in the conference in rushing with 522 yards, which comes out to average of just over 104 yards per game. If the running game isn’t working, the Ponies will turn to quarterback Tanner Donovan, who is third in the conference in passing yards with 536, as well as his two electric wide outs, Nate Harada, who is averaging over 22 yards per catch. And Chris Brandt, who has 130 yards receiving. “We are obviously going to have to throw the ball a little bit more and become more balanced on offense,” Sukut said. “But I think we can take advantage of whatever they give us and I feel good about where we are at right now. “It’s down to essentially a three-game season,” he added. “All our goals are right in front of us and now we just have to go out there one week at a time and take care of business starting tonight.” Tonight’s pivotal Central A homecoming showdown at Blue Pony Stadium will kick off at 7 p.m. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM AM.