With an explosive offense and a tough as nails defense, that is how a football team wants to start a new season. The Havre High football program can check both of those things of their list of things to do.
Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, the Central A Blue Ponies got their season underway. And in impressive fashion, defeating the Northwest A Whitefish Bulldogs 54-25. The win for HHS also kept the BNSF traveling trophy in Havre for the fifth straight year.
“This is the way we wanted to start our season,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “The way we came out and performed gave us some confidence on the offensive side of the ball, but we still have a few things on defense that we have to tighten up. But overall it was a pretty good day considering the heat and the elements. Giving up 25 points is a little over our goal set, but for our first game and in this heat, it was all right.”
It was the passing game that gave the Ponies' defense a few problems and resulted in the Bulldogs’ 25 points.
HHS did a solid job of stopping the run defensively, but Whitefish showed everybody they are a threat through the air. The Bulldogs rotated three quarterbacks, Christopher Forrest, Connor Donahue and Sean Foley, each one just as sound and accurate as the other. And with wide receivers, Connor Ellis, Logan Harwood, David Rizzolo, Bryce Wehrli and Gage Vasquez all earning the majority of the targets on over 40 combined pass attempts, the Ponies had a lot of connections to put a stop to.
But with all the risks through the air, the Bulldogs only made the Ponies pay on five big plays. In the first quarter Vaszuez grabbed a 23-yard pass from Donahue, and in the second, Vasquez reeled in a 27-yard catch to set up a one-yard rushing score by the Bulldogs. The other scores came in the third quarter when Donahue connected with Wehrli with a 14-yard strike and when Forrest connected with Harwood for a 42-yard strike.
“We were expecting to see (Donahue) and (Forrest) (at quarterback),” Christenson said. “We kind of planned for both of them, but it was just an adjustment that we made as coaches on how to attack whatever quarterback was back their.
“When you have a corral full of thoroughbreds like Whitefish does,” Christenson added. “Especially at the wide receiver position, you have to utilize them. Our philosophy is to get the ball in the best athlete's hands and let them do something with it, I am sure their philosophies are much the same. And they utilized those receivers, and we knew they were going to and all we could do was try and stop them.”
Fortunately the Bulldogs struggled with dropped balls. They got deep several times and dropped what looked to be wide open touchdowns.
“It was our first game,” Christenson said. “And we have some corners who are young and don’t have a lot of game experience with Zach Plum and Mark Vukasin, but they are going to grow and learn and get better.
“We just knew we had to play with some depth,” Havre High senior safety Ryan Brandt added. “Keep them in front of us and make plays. (Vasquez) played well and made some good catches, but we shutdown everybody else and fortunately got the win. If anything, we have to get more depth. They had at least three dropped passes that could have been touchdowns that went right through their hands. We are just going to watch the game film, see what we did wrong and fix it.”
But despite the four scores from Whitefish, the Ponies were in control from the opening whistle and never looked back.
The Blue Pony offense started as good as they could have, and looked hungry after last season’s early exit from the playoffs. But if anybody was expecting a slow start from this high-octane offense, HHS hopefully showed what is in store for the rest of the season, leaving little to worry about.
Casey Schaub got the Blue Ponies on the board with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Justin Jensen, capping off an 11-play opening drive, putting the Ponies up 7-0. And from there the Pony offense was almost unstoppable. Brayden Grimson scored on a 23-yard pass from Jensen and Brandt returned a kickoff 77 yards for a score to put the finishing touches on a 20-6 first quarter.
Thurman Holdsclaw scored on a 25-yard reception from Jensen in the second frame to go up 27-12. And Schaub capped off anther big series in the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run on the 12th play of the drive. Jensen also had a 3-yard run for a score and Plum grabbed a 1-yard pass for another second quarter score to go up 47-12 at the half.
The final Blue Pony score came in the fourth quarter with just under two minutes to play. Eli Hinebauch put together a couple good cuts to find his way to paydirt on a 15-yard rushing score.
“Coach (Dan) Wirtzberger, the offensive coordinator does a great job,” Christenson said. “He’s got that motor running and we are going to be tough to defend. It doesn’t matter if it’s our run game or our passing game, he will make adjustments to our strengths and the defenses weakness and does a great job of that.”
Jensen led the team from the quarterback position, going 16-of-24 for 277 yards in the air. He also passed for four scores and ran for another. Grimson grabbed four passes for 81 yards and Brandt grabbed five for 91 yards. Holdsclaw also grabbed two passes for 50 yards.
And Brandt also helped propel the Ponies on the ground with a 77-yard kick return for a score and 10 carries for 68 yards. Schaub also had seven carries for 53 yards and a touchdown. Schaub also had a receiving touchdown. HHS carried the ball a total of 28 times and racked up 177 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, the Ponies were led by Schaub with nine tackles, including two for a loss and one sack. Brandt, Grimson and Hinebacuh also had seven tackles each. And Kameron Pribyl and Vukasin had five each. Smith and Holdsclaw also had a sack each.
The Blue Ponies jumped all over the competition on Saturday to get their season started off right. Now sitting at 1-0 overall, the Ponies will now prepare for another rare Saturday afternoon game against Butte Central on the road.