Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
During the first half of Saturday’s game, it was apparent that the Havre High football team still needed to iron out some preseason wrinkles. But by the end of the matchup in Whitefish Saturday, the Blue Ponies showed why they hold the No. 1 ranking in the Central A. On Saturday afternoon, the Class A Ponies were on the road where they defeated the Whitefish Bulldogs 28-12 in their season opener. And in doing so, the Ponies captured the BNSF traveling trophy for the third straight year. “That first half was just back and forth,” Havre High head coach Kevin Sukut said. “I think it was a feeling out period, and I think it was just some first game jitters. It was pretty sloppily played by both teams.” A big reason for the slow first half by both teams was penalties. The Bulldogs had a handful of negative yardage plays, while the Ponies had four firsthalf holding penalties that cost them 40 yards. But it was the Bulldogs who would strike first during the relatively sluggish first half. The Bulldogs took a 6-0 lead over the Ponies when Tanner Benedict punched in a five-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But after C.J. Evans blocked the PAT, the Ponies answered right back with a second-quarter score of their own. With less than two minutes left in the half, Evans led the Ponies down the field on a two-minute drill with no timeouts. And with eight seconds left on the clock, he connected with Ryan Myers for an 8-yard score. Danny Roe’s PAT put the Ponies up 7-6 heading into the lockeroom. “That was huge,” Sukut said. “For a momentum standpoint, especially, it was a big boost for our guys going into the lockeroom.” Penalties hurt the Ponies, but so did straying away from the game plan in the first half. The Ponies thrive on offensive equality, but against the Bulldogs the Ponies found themselves in many long yardage situations where they were forced to throw more than they would have liked. “We got too pass happy,” Sukut said. “And we got away from our bread and butter, which is running the ball. The second-and-longs and third-and-longs, I think caused us to throw the ball more than we wanted to.” Coming out of the locker room to start the second half, the game could have easily gone in favor of either team. The Ponies held on to a narrow 7-6 lead, and finally seized all momentum from the Bulldogs after making some muchneeded adjustments. “I told the kids at halftime,” Sukut said, “let's just do what we do well. We needed to quit worrying about everything else, reduce the penalties and get back to the run.” The Bulldogs got the first possession of the half, but they weren’t able to capitalize. The Pony defense stepped up and forced a punt after only three offensive plays for only six yards. But the Ponies, on the other hand, were able to benefit from a good offensive drive. Starting on their own 34-yard-line, the Ponies had a ways to go before seeing the end zone. But after a 10-yard carry by Kent Pattison on the first play of the drive, the Ponies looked explosive after the break. Pattison added three more carries to the drive, but it was Casey Schaub who would find the end zone for the Ponies with 5:14 left in the quarter. He had two carries previously in the drive, but would score on an 18-yard reception from Evans to cap off a 66-yard, eight play drive. Holding a 14-6 lead, the Ponies defense continued to dominate the Bulldog offense. What started as a simple first and 10 for the Bulldogs, quickly spiraled into a third and 33, which ended with a Pony sack, and a punt. But the Ponies had found a groove and didn’t show any signs of coming out of it. On the punt return, Pattison made a move to the outside that left the Bulldog's special teams in his wake. With 2:51 left in the third quarter, Pattison scored on a 46-yard punt return to put the Ponies up 21-6 after yet another converted PAT by Roe. At the end of the third quarter the Bulldogs had a chance to cut the Ponies' lead back down to a reasonable measure. But after a good drive from even better field position, the Bulldogs couldn’t convert. The Ponies took over with just seconds left in the third, but continued to execute into the fourth and final quarter of play. And after another well-executed drive, the Ponies found the end zone for the third straight time. This time with 11:13 still on the clock, the Ponies moved the ball 64 yards on only three plays. And it was Pattison again capping off the drive, but this time on the third down 56-yard option play. Roe converted his fourth PAT kick of the game to go 4-for-4, and the Ponies now held a 28-6 lead. “We just had better rhythm in the second half,” Sukut said. “I was pleased with the way we played and how we executed in all facets of the game. Things finally got in gear and started clicking.” The Bulldogs came close to scoring on the ensuing drive, but the tough Pony defense forced two incomplete passes on third and fourth down. And after three consecutive touchdowns by the Ponies, they finally seemed to have cooled down late in the fourth quarter. They went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, and were forced to punt to a Bulldogs squad that refused to give up. With 4:23 left on the game clock, the Bulldogs took over on the Pony 43-yardline. It took six plays, but the relentless offense finally managed score on a Jeremy Neilsen five-yard run in an attempt to make the score a little more respectable. The Ponies only had to run about a minute off the clock after the Bulldog's touchdown, but as the time wound down, the Ponies had captured the 28-12 win to get their season off to a dominating start. The Ponies dominated the Bulldogs on the offensive side of the ball. The Ponies compiled up 298 yards, while the Bulldogs earned 221 yards of total offense. And on the ground, the Ponies rushed for 188 yards on 25 carries. Evans was 8-of-16 in the air, and passed for 110 yards and two touchdowns, one to Myers and one to Schaub. “It’s obvious our run game is ahead of our pass game,” Sukut said. “But for his (Evans) first game starting, I think he did a good job.” And Pattison led the Pony offense on the ground by rushing the ball 12 times for 120 yards and accounting for two second-half touchdowns. Pattison also earned 90 yards in returns. The Ponies' defense also had a good Saturday afternoon, holding the Bulldogs to only 221 yards of total offense. They also stepped up and contained Derek Crittenden and Tanner Benedict, an extremely dangerous running back tandem. “We were really fearful of their run game,” Sukut Said. “But I have to give kudos to our run defense. They held two premier backs who are as good as they come. We bottled them up pretty good, it was just typical Blue Pony defense, they did a good job of holding things in check.” Jake Lilletvedt led the Pony defense with two sacks, while Will DeVries, Spencer Smith, Roe, Schaub, John Perrodin and Eli Hinebauch all added one to combine for eight total sacks. And Perrodin led the team in tackles, getting in on 15. Schaub had 10 and Pattison had nine, while Hinebauch had six solo and Jake Myers had six solo and six assisted. “All in all it was a good first game, I think,” Sukut said. “It was a good one to get under our belts. We’ve got a ways to go, but overall we are pleased. We’ve got some things to iron out, but it was a tough road game to open with.” It took the Ponies two quarters to settle into a groove and to start playing good, solid football. But now with a long break ahead of them, they will try to maintain their consistency. The Ponies next game will be Sept. 11 when they hit the road once again to face Glendive at 7 p.m.