The most dangerous teams in football find their stride when it matters most, the end of the season. That is the story behind the Southwestern A Hamilton Broncs, who have navigated their way into the second round of the state playoffs after a less than dominating start to their season.
The Broncs will be Central A champion Havre's quarterfinal opponent Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
Hamilton got off to a 0-3 start this season, but has gone 5-2 since then. And in that 5-2 run came a 28-11 win in the first round of the Class A playoffs last Saturday over Libby, the No. 2 team out of the Northwest. Currently the Broncs are sitting at 5-5, and will look to grab one more win on Saturday in Havre, when they take on the Havre High Blue Ponies in the quarterfinals. The Ponies enter Saturday’s game with a 5-0 conference record and 6-3 record overall.
The Broncs dropped three straight games to Billings Central, Whitefish and Polson, losing by scores of 42-6, 20-17 and 41-0. The Broncs also lost to Southwest champion Dillon 35-0 and to Stevensville 41-13 during the regular season. But Hamilton also earned much-needed wins over Frenchtown 35-0, Corvallis 39-38, Butte Central 29-20 and Anaconda 40-20 during the regular season. The wins over Butte Central and Anaconda show the Broncs have what it takes to beat solid teams, but a loss to a team like Whitefish shows they may have their hands full with the Ponies. Havre High defeated Whitefish 54-25 in their opening game of the season.
But the Broncs have come on as of late and are confident in what they have done over the last several weeks.
“We started out a little slow this year losing our first three games,” Hamilton head coach Travis Blome said. “But since then we have gone 5-2. Our kids have bought into the program and have played extremely hard.”
Blome took over this season for the legendary Steve Weston in Hamilton and he's found success in his first season at the helm.
Quarterback Josh Bauder, standing at 5-11, 180-pounds has led the Broncs’ offense this season, an offense that has found the majority of their production in the air. But with athletes like Tyler Murray and Mike Bienusa, they can pass as well as run with good efficiency. Murray is the top wide receiver for the Broncs, but also gets his share of carries. Bienusa also produces on the ground and gives the Broncs an added depth to their offense.
Last weekend in their first round win over Libby, Bauder passed for 204 yards and a touchdown. Bauder also rushed for 58 yards on eight carries. Murray had eight catches for 137 yards and carried the ball 12 times for 57 yards. And Bienusa added 50 yards on 19 carries.
“Our sophomore quarterback Josh Bauder has really come on late and has played very well the last few games,” Blome said. “And Tyler Murray has done a lot for us on both sides of the ball.”
The Hamilton defense has one shutout this season. And in their five wins, they have allowed over 20 points just once. But the Havre offense is averaging over 40 points per game this season and have scored as many as 66 in one game (win over Browning). The Broncs will look to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but will really have to step up on offense if they want to stand a chance against the Ponies dominating run and passing game.
“The offensive and defensive fronts have played well at times,” Blome said. “And for us to be successful we will need a good game from them.”
Hamilton is a hard-nosed team which banks on good offensive and defensive lines and controlling time of possession on offense. But the Broncs can put points on the board as well, as indicated in their wild win over rival Corvallis earlier this season.
And that should set up a great matchup with the Ponies. Saturday's game kicks off at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.