Whenever the team of Miles City shows up on the Havre High football schedule, there is going to be some serious preparation.
The defending Class A state champion Miles City Cowboys left a bad taste in the mouths of the Central A Blue Ponies twice last season, and that hasn’t been forgotten. First, at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, the Cowboys defeated the Ponies 34-14 in week two last fall. And then in the first round of the state playoffs in Miles City, the Cowboys handed the Ponies a 54-26 loss to end their season and championship hopes.
This time around things will hopefully be different. Tonight in Havre, the 1-1 Ponies will host the No. 2-ranked Cowboys (2-0) at Blue Pony Stadium at 6.
“Our focus again this week,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “Was that we know they are a big and physical team and that they are going to run the ball at us. We just have to play to our strengths, and our strengths are our speed. We just have to play fundamental football, stay low on the offensive and defensive line and just take the fight to them. We are going to play strong, play fast and not let their big guys get a hold of us.
“We can’t be intimidated,” Christenson went on to say. “We need to be just as aggressive and play smart, fundamental football. I think Miles City intimidates a lot of teams with their size, but we just have to play as physical as we can.”
The Cowboys are a big team, and that has been a strength of their's year in and year out.
The offensive line’s smallest starter is Johny Cahill, a 6-0, 230-pounder. And they only grow bigger from there, with Cooper Merrill at 6-3, 240 pounds, Clint LaRowe at 6-5, 250 pounds, Tyrell Hess at 6-2, 265 pounds and Drew Senger at 6-5, 290 pounds.
LaRowe, Hess, Senger and Merrill also bring their size and strength to the defensive line, while Colten Johnston (6-0, 205 pounds), Mat Roos (6-0, 205 pounds) and Alec Haughian (6-2, 170 pounds) will try to lock down the Ponies from the linebacker position.
The Ponies' offensive line of Ethan Hettinger (5-10, 235), Kameron Pribyl (5-10, 180), Joey Devries (6-0, 235), Evan Flathers (5-11, 195) and Trent Nystrom (5-10, 235), and defensive line of Thurman Holdsclaw (6-2, 200), Brandon Smith (6-3, 210), Flathers and Nystrom will have to stay low, use their speed and keep the Cowboys from getting a hold of them if they want to be effective.
Miles City quarterback Ben Herzog will also keep the Ponies defensive backs busy. He is coming off of a game where he threw three touchdown passes in a win against Dickinson, N.D. and Zach Plum, Ryan Brandt, Brayden Grimson and Mark Vukasin will do their best to lock down the Miles City receivers. So far this season Dalton Reid is the No. 1 receiver for the Cowboys.
Tyler Essex is out as the Cowboys No. 1 running back after an injury last weekend. This takes away the Cowboys brute in the backfield, but doesn’t take away their running game by any means. Robert Nalewaja will fill in nicely for the Cowboys, and the Ponies will be sure to know exactly where he is at, at all times.
“He (Essex) played a major role for them on offense and defense,” Christenson said. “But they can fill that hole, and that actually makes them a little bit faster with the backs they will use instead of him.”
The HHS defense will undoubtedly have a battle on their hands, but the Ponies’ offense will be ready for battle as well.
Senior Justin Jensen is out as the Ponies quarterback after a concussion in last weekend’s game against Butte Central. And stepping up to the starting role will be junior Zach Plum. Plum has big shoes to fill, as Jensen has already thrown for 567 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception this season. Jensen also has one rushing touchdown.
But the Blue Ponies are looking to get their run game started early. This will open things up for the pass, as well as take some pressure off of Plum and allow him time to get used to game speed. This means Casey Schaub and Brandt should be ready to roll early, and should look to utilize their speed to beat the Cowboys big, but not as quick defense.
“We had to change some things up a bit,” Christenson said. “Zach (Plum) has been getting reps and we are just going to play to his strengths and do what he does well. He has done a phenomenal job during practice which has given him confidence, and if he is able to carry that confidence into the game he is going to do ok. An We always want to establish the run. That is going to be very important, but if that doesn’t work, we will just go to the air because that is a strength of ours. We are going to treat it as if Jensen is back their, and hopefully Plum can pull it together and get the job done.”
With Jensen at the helm, the game through the air has been a strength for the Ponies. Grimson has already reeled in two touchdown passes, and has racked up 175 yards. Brandt has racked up over 100 yards receiving as well, while Schaub, and Holdsclaw also have a receiving touchdown as well. Plum has one receiving touchdown this season, but he will hopefully throw for a few tonight instead.
The 1-1 Ponies and 2-0 Cowboys will kickoff at 6 p.m. tonight at the Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. The can be heard locally on 610 AM KOJM.