If asked, a lot of people will agree with the timeless saying that defense wins championships. But as the Havre High football team embarks on the 2011 Class A playoffs, and hopes to win a championship of its own, it has been the prolific offense that has led to a lot of the Blue Ponies’ success this season.
Havre High is undoubtedly the best team in the Central A. The Ponies proved that point when they defeated Livingston for the conference champ
ionship two weeks ago, but the Ponies are also one of the top Class A teams in the state when it comes to their offensive.
In nine games this season, the Ponies have put up scary numbers. They have already set or tied three school records, and are nearing another. Quarterback Justin Jensen completed 22 consecutive passes in a game to tie an HHS record, while Brayden Grimson and Ryan Brandt have also tied receiving records with 11 receptions in one game. In another record setting outing, the Ponies racked up 703 yards in a win against Libby to set a new school record. Overall, the offense has earned 4,331 total yards of offense this season, 2,245 on the ground and 2,086 through the air. And with at least one game left this season, and hopefully a few more, the Ponies are just about 200 yards away from breaking the record for total offense in a season set by the 2004, state champion team. So far this season, the Ponies are averaging 481 yard a game.
“You are only as good as your big guys upfront,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “And they don’t really get the recognition they deserve. And when you are going through a season and you are on the verge of breaking a record set by a team that won a state championship, everybody has a hand in it. But we have a ton of rushing yards, and that is all on the offensive line opening up holes. The guys up front are taking care of the blocks and opening up those holes and doing a great job of it.”
Joey DeVries from the center position has really anchored the offensive line this season and has really proved to be a true college prospect for the Ponies. That was expected from DeVries, while Kameron Pribyl (tackle) and Cole Molyneaux (guard) have been pleasant surprises. Pribyl was a full back last season, but has cemented his spot as one of the key lineman this year. And Molyneaux got his shot on the line when he replaced an injured Ethan Hettinger after Hettinger went down with a concussion against Sidney. Trent Nystrom (guard) and Evan Flathers have also been major contributors on the offensive line.
“He (Pribyl) definitely isn’t the biggest kid out there,” Christenson said. “But he stepped in with a smile on his face and has been improving with every game. He is one of the tougher kids we have on that offensive line and he goes after people and does a great job. But we have several guys that we have plugged in and worked with and they have done a phenomenal job.”
The play of the line has led to the Blue Ponies putting together the No. 2 offense in Class A. And with their determination up front, it has led to some of the Ponies’ skill players also becoming some of the best the state has to offer.
The rushing game has truly been influenced by the linemen this season. Casey Schaub leads the run game with 140 carries for 1,248 yards this season. He is averaging nine yards per carry and 138 yards per game. Brandt has carried the ball 78 times for a total of 769 yards, while averaging 10 yards per carry and 85 yards per game.
Jensen has completed 127 passes on 221 attempts, giving him a completion rate of over 57 percent. He has also passed for 28 touchdowns and just three interceptions en route to 2,086 total yards, while averaging 260 passing yards per game.
“After another year of maturity and another year working with Danny Wirtzberger (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach),” Christenson said. “He has gone to another level. Jensen is a phenomenal quarterback and I think he can play at the college level and be successful at the college level. He (Jensen) has done a phenomenal job for us this year.”
On the receiving end of the majority of those passes has been Thurman Holdsclaw, Grimson and Brandt, all of which are in the top five in the Central A. Holdsclaw has brought in 31 passes for 600 yards, averaging 19 yards per catch and 6-yards per game. Grimson has reeled in 33 balls for 567 yard, averaging 17 yards per catch and 63 yards per game. And Brandt has brought in 35 receptions this season, for a total of 515 yards, averaging 14 yards per catch and 57 yards per game. Those three receivers have been huge for the Ponies, and what's truly remarkable about the receiving corps is, the Ponies lost star and leader Logan Connor to an injury before the season evan began.
“Brandt and Grimson have really stepped up and done a nice job,” Christenson said. “They have decided they were going to be the leaders and take over that role, and they have been phenomenal with their preparation and performances during games. And (Holdsclaw), he was an intangible we didn’t know we were going to have. He came out (for football instead of golf) and is such an athlete it’s amazing. We miss Logan (Connor) a lot, but when you get a kid to come out who you didn’t know was going to come out and performs this way, it is just an extra bonus for the team.”
And fans haven’t seen the same offense over and over again from HHS. They come out in several different looks, and can run or pass out of most them. And with Brandt lining up in the backfield as well as a flex receiver, opposing defenses don’t know what to expect or who is going to make the big play the Ponies are so capable of.
HHS can score and can score in a hurry, and a lot of that has to do with the up tempo style they have adopted and ran so well this season.
The Ponies have run a lot of no huddle, hurry up offense this year. They get the play in and they get to the line. They have kept defenses on their heels all season long and seem to find a comfort zone doing it.
And while the Ponies have found consistent offense thus far, they need that consistency on Saturday when the host Hamilton. They earned the bye week, but fans can expect they have kept it up tempo at practice and will come out looking to score big. But spoken like a true coach, there is always room for improvement.
“We are never satisfied,” Christenson said. “But I am very proud of the kids and I am happy with the progression. A lot of the credit goes right to Danny Wirtzberger. He just demands a fast, up pace offense and we run a lot of hurry up. The kids can’t help but stay focused with that style and he does a great job. I really contribute that to our success. But we can still keep improving and we are playing solid football right now. But we still have room to improve and if we can keep doing that by establishing a solid run and pass game, we will have some more success and have a good shot at winning a few games.”