George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
When the 61st Annual Montana East- West Shrine Game kicks off at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls on Saturday night, in most ways, it will be just like any other game in the historic series. The game will feature the best high school football players from the Class of 2007, and it will also be about raising money for the Shrine Children’s Hospital, a great and important cause. But for Havre High School fans, and football fans up and down the Hi-Line, the game will be about local pride, because both HHS and the Hi-Line will be well-represented in Great Falls this year. The East squad is coached by Blue Pony head coach Kevin Sukut. And Sukut, a veteran coach who had a successful run at Cascade, and this past season, led HHS to the Central A championship, knows that coaching in the Shrine Game is a tremendous achievement for any high school coach. “This week has been a lot of fun,” Sukut said from Billings where the shrine teams have been preparing for Saturday’s game. “This is a great experience for any coach to get do something like this. You get to meet great coaches and great kids from different places across our state, and it’s just a tremendous honor.” Raising money for charity is something that isn’t lost on Sukut or the three players representing HHS in the game. The East team will feature Blue Pony quarterback Tanner Donovan, linebacker Evan Hinebauch and defensive end Michael Erickson, all of whom are excited about representing HHS and playing for the great cause that the Shrine Game embodies. “You know it’s a football game and we all want to do our best,” Donovan said. “But the reality is, it’s all about helping these kids as much as we can. We have met some of the kids and to see what they have gone through really puts things in perspective. And they really motivate us to play as hard and as well as we possibly can.” Said Sukut: “Obviously we want to win the game. That is very important to all of these kids who have come down here and worked so hard for the past eight days. But this game is about so much more than that. It’s a huge honor to be selected to be a part of this and it’s about following all of the great athletes and coaches who have come before us. And now we get to be a part of that. And of course, it’s about playing for the Shrine kids. That’s a huge thing and it’s just a tremendous honor.” As for the game itself, Sukut’s team will feature a wealth of talent both on the field and on the sideline. Havre High assistant Ryan Joy, a Shrine Game participant in 1995, is on Sukut’s staff, as is Chester/J-I coach Jim Vinson. And on the field, the Hi-Line is represented by Harlem center Tyler Faulkinberry and C/J-I linebacker Matt Wicks. “All three of our kids are doing really well in practice, and all of them are going to have a big impact on this game,” Sukut said. “And Tyler Faulkinberry and Matt Wicks have also done really well. They both work extremely hard, and I expect both of them to do really well on Saturday.” Donovan will split time at quarterback with Huntley-Project’s Clark Cranford. Cranford is a speed demon who can break a game wide open from the backfield. “Tanner is throwing the ball well,” Sukut said. “And Clark Cranford is going to be one of the guys in this game that people are going to want to watch. He can take it the distance at any time and he is just a phenomenal athlete.” Other players on the offensive side of the ball to watch for the East include CMR tailback Christian Prosperie, who won the Class AA rushing title two straight years, as well as tailback Colby Kinna from Fairfield. At wide receiver, Great Falls High standout Shawn Tatarka, who will play basketball for Montana State University- Northern this fall, is a deep threat, as is Lewistown’s Evan Stokken. Tight ends Shane Robison from Billings West and Adam Schilling of Centerville are also big targets for Donovan and Cranford to throw to. “This game is a lot different because everyone at every position is good,” Donovan said. “Our team has a lot of speed and we have so many good athletes that it just makes you step your game up another notch. I think we are going to be pretty exciting on offense.” Defensively Hinebauch and Erickson will help anchor the East defense which will have its hands full with a speedy West team that features two-time Class A All-State quarterback Zach McCrae from Dillon. Billings Skyview’s Leo Davis and CMR’s Dayton Jackson should also have an impact on the game from the defensive side of the ball, while Fort Benton’s Jackson Ledgerwood will see plenty of action in the defensive backfield. “I think the game should be pretty nip and tuck,” Sukut said. “The West has a lot of speed on paper, and we do too, but they may have a little bit more. But our offensive and defensive line’s are very big so that should make for an interesting battle up front. “But this game will be a lot of fun for us as coaches, for the players and the fans,” he added. “This is a tremendous honor, and it has been a great experience so far to come down here and be with the three kids from our team and to have met and coached all these great players. It has just been a lot of fun, and we’re really looking forward to putting on a good show on Saturday night.” The 61st Annual Shrine Game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium Saturday night in Great Falls.