Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Heading into the season-opening game against Whitefish, Havre head coach Kevin Sukut said the game would come down to which team made fewer mistakes. And when everything was all said and done it turned out his prediction was right on the money. Thanks in large part to an ability to capitalize on Whitefish turnovers and special team’s mishaps, the Havre High football team began the season with a bang, defeating the Bulldogs 21-7 on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium, reclaiming the BNSF traveling trophy for the first time since the 2004 season. “Getting a win to start the season and getting that trophy back is just huge for our football team,” HHS head coach Kevin Sukut said. “The kids wanted it back, so they set their sights on it and they got the job done.” The turning point in the game came late in the third quarter with the score tied 7-7. Whitefish punt returner Aaron Tkachyk attempted to field a Kyle Finneman punt inside his own fiveyard line. Michael Hickman forced Tkachyk to fumble and HHS recovered the ball at the one-yard line, giving the Ponies a golden opportunity. “I thought that was the turning point in the game,” Sukut said. “It started with a great punt from Finneman, then a tremendous play by Hickman. We were really impressed with the hustle he showed on that play. It just completely swung the momentum in our favor.” Havre cashed in just two plays later as Loren Mack walked into the end zone to give the Ponies a 14-7 lead, their first of the game. “Getting the (BNSF Railway Traveling) trophy back is a huge boost for this team,” Mack said. “The last two years we have come so close to winning it and have come up short, so it feels good to finally get it back. It belongs here.” In the fourth quarter, Whitefish was mounting a drive still facing a 14-7 deficit, but the Bulldogs made yet another critical error, when Tkachyk was stripped of the ball and the Ponies recovered at the Whitefish 48-yard line with 9:14 remaining in the contest. After three consecutive pass completions by Finneman moved the ball to the Whitefish 16-yard line, the Ponies put the game away for good. On a third-and-one play, Finneman hit Jay Darrah, who eluded a number of Bulldog defenders to score on a 16-yard pass play, making the score 21-7 with just 5:45 left in the game. Despite HHS’s domination in the second half, it appeared for a while at least in the first half that the Bulldogs might just knock off the Ponies for the third straight season. After they were unable to turn a Finneman interception into points on their first possession of the game, the Bulldogs found the end zone on a three-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Matt Starr with 40 seconds left in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, capping off an impressive 12-play, 68-yard drive scoring drive that took four minutes off the clock. HHS still found itself down 7-0 midway through the second quarter with ball at its own 38-yard line. But the Ponies’ offense promptly drove the ball 62 yards for the score in just five plays. After a personal foul penalty on the Bulldogs and a 17-yard scamper by tailback Jordan Van Voast, HHS advanced the ball to the one following an impressive catch and run by Mack that was good for 24 yards. One play later, Finneman plowed his way into the end zone from the one-yard line, tying the game up at 7-7 with 3:52 left in the first half. Finneman was a little shaky at times in his first start at quarterback, but he finished up with solid numbers, completing 11-of-22 passes for 110 yards to go along with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also was the Ponies’ leading rusher, gaining 34 yards on eight carries with a rushing touchdown. Mack was stellar in all three phases of the game, notching 31 yards on four carries in addition to three receptions for 27 yards. He also finished with seven tackles. Jay Darrah also contributed in a big way with game-highs in receptions with five and receiving yards with 42 and a score. Defensively, Havre had a number o f s tandouts, including Nate Christianson, who led the team with nine tackles. Jordan Brough and Curtis Shandorf also dominated on the defensive line, each finishing with two sacks. Bul ldogs ’ quar terback Alex Elespuru was 11-for-24 for 105 yards in the loss to go along with a team-high 42 rushing yards from Starr. Whitefish ultimately out-gained HHS in the game, finishing with 205 total yards to 197 for the Ponies. Both teams turned the ball over three times, but HHS turned three Bulldog turnovers into 21 points, whi l e Whi tef i sh had zero point s of f turnovers. “I think that we still have some things we need to improve upon, especially offensively,” Sukut said. “But those things will come with time and each week we will get better and better. Now, the road is going to get really tough, going to Billings Central next week will be a big challenge.” Havre will be on the road this week against Billings Central, the Eastern A champion and Class A state semi-finalist from a year ago. HHS and Billings Central will meet at 6 p. m. Saturday night at Daylis Stadium in Billings.