Heading into the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, the Havre High football team didn’t want to take any chances. They utilized their bye week well, and knew just how important it was for their offense to take the field and score early.
And fortunately for the Central A champion Blue Ponies, that is just what their offense did Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. The Ponies hosted the No. 3 Southwest Hamilton Broncs in Class A quarterfinal action, and it was the Ponies who came away with the 30-14 win, their first playoff win since 2004 when the Ponies won the Class A title.
But the win wasn’t exactly easy for the Ponies, as they heavily leaned on their offense to bail them out after facing some early adversity.
HHS couldn’t get anything going on their first two offensive drives. They punted the ball away after a three-and-out and were punting the ball away again. This time from their own 17-yard line, the punt was blocked and collected by the Broncs. It was Seth Ray who came away with the ball on the eight-yard line and found his way into the end zone with 6:41 left to play in the first quarter.
The Broncs took an early 7-0 lead, and it looked as if the Ponies postseason woes would continue to haunt them through the 2011 season. But that wasn’t the case, as the Pony offense came alive and scored three unanswered scores in the first half to take a commanding 22-7 lead at the break.
“We had to set the stage for our defense,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “Our defense feeds off of our offense, so if the offense performs well the defense gets fired up too. We had to answer back their score on that blocked punt and that was huge for us.”
And there is no question that the Blue Ponies can score, and can do so in a variety of ways.
Thurman Holdsclaw got the Ponies on the board on the ensuing drive. Lined up in a wildcat style offense, Holdsclaw capped off a seven play, 63-yard drive by the Ponies with a three-yard rushing touchdown. Justin Jensen then connected with Ryan Brandt on the conversion to give the Ponies an 8-7 lead. And on their next possession, the Ponies and Holdsclaw did it again, this time capping off a 12-play drive with a TD. Jensen connected with Holdsclaw from 20 yards out to start the second quarter, and just like that the Ponies were ahead 14-7.
HHS got the ball back with 6:10 to play in the half and would add to their lead one more time before intermission. Brayden Grimson answered the call this time and reeled in a seven-yard pass from Jensen. Casey Schaub ran in the conversion and put the Ponies up 22-7.
Jensen was a major contributor in the Ponies' offense, and so was Holdsclaw, one of Jensen’s favorite targets this season. They both knew the importance of getting on the board early against Hamilton.
“We knew that was going to be important because we knew Hamilton had a talented offense,” Holdsclaw said. “We had to come out and get up early and then we needed our defense to come out and stop them, and we did that.
“They scored first and we were down right away,” Jensen added. “So we just had to pick up our pace early and do what we always do.”
The second half was more of a defensive battle for the Ponies. HHS forced the Broncs to punt once and turn the ball over on downs three times in the first half. And in the second half, HHS forced four punts while allowing just one Hamilton score. The Broncs scored in the fourth quarter with 4:49 left to play when Dustin Weidenkeller grabbed a two-yard pass from Tyler Murray. The Ponies also forced a fumble in the second half.
“Our defense was great the entire game,” Christenson said. “We only allowed 14 points in the game, but one of those scores came on special teams. When you get a stand like that from your defense all game long it feels pretty good. We have been giving up a lot of points in some of our wins this season, so to get a performance like this against a very explosive team like Hamilton was nice.”
The Hamilton offense is usually much more explosive. With an outstanding wide receiver in Murray and quarterback Josh Bauder, the Broncs have given defenses fits this season. But the Ponies' defense stepped up and really limited their production. The Broncs passed for 155 yards, but no scores. And Murray had just three rushing yards and 35 receiving yards. Bauder rushed for -39 yards in the contest.
“This whole week we had been working hard to stop the throw,” Havre linebacker Eli Hinebauch said. “That is something that has been tough for our defensive backs, but that is what they did today and they did a great job.”
But the defensive ends and linebackers also stepped up in a big way to help lead the defense. They helped limit the passing game by pressuring Bauder all game long, but also filled the holes and limited the Broncs’ running game.
Hamilton rushed for just 9 total yards on 24 carries. Mike Biensusa had a big game on the ground, but the team total took a hit with Bauder’s -39. Bauder was also just 8-of-20 passing.
“We stressed all week long that our defense had to get pressure on the quarterback,” Christenson said. “And we couldn’t just rely on stunts to get pressure on the quarterback because Hamilton will find the holes. It was really on the defenses shoulders to get the pressure and Thurman (Holdsclaw), Donny (Lohman), Evan (Flathers), Casey (Schaub) and Brandon (Smith) really stepped up and played a great game especially.”
The Ponies’ defense was stout all game long. Holdsclaw had 10 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Smith also had five tackles, three sacks and five hurries. Schaub also had 10 tackles and two sacks, while Kameron Pribyl had six tackles, Hinebauch had eight and Flathers had six with three hurries, a sack and on caused fumble.
But the Ponies also struggled to produce on offense after the first two quarters.
HHS didn’t find the end zone in the second half until just two minutes remained in the game. Brandt found pay dirt on a six-yard run and Jensen connected with Holdsclaw on the conversion score to give the Ponies the 30-14 edge they would ride to victory.
The Ponies weren’t able to march down the field like they did in the first half because of corrections the Broncs made at halftime. The Broncs really crammed the box on defense and put Murray over the top as the only safety. This forced the Ponies to throw in a lot of long down situations and the Broncs were ready for it. Murray even picked Jensen off early in the fourth quarter for the Ponies only turnover of the afternoon
“They were packing the box on us at the end,” Jensen said. “But we had to use the time to our advantage so we were happy with our run game and what we did in the second half.
“They (Broncs) are a really physical football team,” Christenson said. “They fly around and do a great job and they were just keying on our run and jamming our outside receivers. We really had a hard time finding openings against their defense in the second half.”
HHS had the ball six times in the second half and ran the clock for the majority of the time. They had a hard time scoring, but did a nice job of sustaining substantial drives, holding their lead and eventually grabbing the win.
But overall, the offense was great for the Ponies.
Jensen was 16-of-25 for 218 yards passing. He also ran the ball two times for 24 yards. Receiving, Holdsclaw had five catches for 66 yards while Brandt had four catches for 73 yards. Grimson reeled in three catches for 34 yards and Zach Plum had one for 27 yards. Schaub also had two catches for 11 yards and Smith had a seven yard catch.
Brandt did however lead the rushing efforts with 22 carries and 99 yards. Schaub carried the ball 17 times for 63 yards. Brandt also returned three kicks for 118 yards and racked up a total of 290 all purpose yards. And overall, the Ponies had 407 yards compared the Hamilton’s 164. The Ponies also had 16 first downs.
This weekend's game was also record setting for the Ponies. With the 407 yards of offense the Ponies racked up, they surpassed the previous school record set by the state champion wining Ponies in 2004. HHS has now racked up 3,737 yards of offense in just 10 games this season, surpassing the previous mark set at 4599, produced in 12 games.
The win on Saturday was a milestone for Havre High and the community. It gave the Ponies a 7-3 record and was their first post season win since 2004. And next weekend on the road, the Ponies will face Dillon in semifinal action at 1 p.m.
Havre 30, Hamilton 14
Hamilton 7 0 0 7 — 14
Havre 8 14 0 8 — 30
HAM - Seth Ray 8 blocked punt return (Seth Mason kick)
HAV - Thurman Holdsclaw 3 run (Ryan Brandt run)
HAV – Thurman Holdsclaw 20 pass from Justin Jensen (kick failed)
HAV - Brayden Grimson 7 pass from Justin Jensen (Ryan Brandt run)
HAM - Dustin Weidenkeller 2 pass from Tyler Murray (Seth Mason kick)
Havre - Ryan Brandt 6 run (Thurman Holdsclaw pass from Justin Jensen)
First downs 9 16
Rushes-yards 24-9 42-189
Passing yards 155 218
Total yards 164 407
Comp-Att-Int 9-22-0 16-25-1
Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-36 9-85
Rushing - Hamilton - Mike Bienusa 4-70; Havre - Caset Schaub 17-63, Ryan Brandt 22-99, Justin Jensen 2-24, Thurman Holdsclaw 1-3.
Passing - Hamilton - Josh Bauder 8-20 -153, Tyler Murray 1-1-2; Havre - Justin Jensen 16-25-2-218.
Receiving - Hamilton - Zander Smith 2-80, Tyler Murray 4-35, Dustin Weidenkeller 2-33, Kris Cleveland 3-23; Havre - Ryan Brandt 4-73, Zach Plum 1-27, Thurman Holdsclaw 5-66, Brayden Grimson 3-34, Casey Schaub 2-11, Brandon Smith 1-7.
Class A Quarterfinals
Dillon 35, Laurel 13
Havre 30, Hamilton 14
Billings Central 14, Stevensville 12
Miles City 7, Polson 6
Semifinals, Nov. 12
Havre at Dillon/Miles City at Billings Central