There's never a dull moment when it comes to high school football on the Hi-Line.
Last season, five Hi-Line teams qualified for the postseason, with three (Havre, Chinook and Big Sandy) winning conference championships.
That will be hard to top in 2012, but as always, the high school football talent around these parts is second to none.
Here's 10 things to watch for as the high school season kicks off this weekend and next.
1 – In Rudyard, look for the North Star Knights to find an identity this season. Former standout (in several sports) Jordy Donoven is no longer with the team, and a loss of that caliber would hurt any team, at any level. Donoven played quarterback two seasons ago, but was moved to a running back/receiver position last season. Donoven was the main target on offense, as well as a dynamic kick and punt return man. But the Knights do have a roster with some young talent, and the door is wide open for somebody to step up and to emerge as the teams’ new big man on campus, as the Knights attempt to get back to the playoffs after missing out last year by one game.
2 – For the first time in three years, the 6-Man Box Elder Bears will play a varsity schedule in 2012. It has been an up and down ride for the program, as last year was the first year they finished a complete season in two years. But after grabbing a couple of wins last year, and now holding down with a roster pushing 20 kids, the Bears feel they are finally ready to make the move up. But they will be tested, facing teams like Two Eagle River, Big Sandy, Geraldine, North Star, Augusta, Stanford/Geyser, Valier and Heart Butte in 2012.
3 – Havre High Activities Director Dennis Murphy can’t recall a time that the Havre High Blue Pony football team named a freshman the starting varsity quarterback. It certainly has not happened in the last 20 or 30 years, but that will all change with the start of the 2012 season. Havre High’s Dane Warp is already making HHS history, and he has yet to play a varsity game. Coming in as a tall, quick and talented signal caller, Warp has earned the starting job, and already has all eyes on him. The Ponies are the defending Central A champions and reached the state semifinals a year ago. Warp will look to keep the young Ponies on the up and up, and has some very large shoes to fill left by not only Justin Jensen (two year starting quarterback), but by all of the past HHS quarterbacks, a historically great position for the Ponies.
4 – The Chinook Sugarbeeters are going to be an interesting team to watch this season. Over the last several years the Beeters have dominated the Class C with a powerful running game, losing only one conference game in two years, and winning the state title two years ago. First it was Tyler Molyneaux giving a new meaning to a power running game, and then it was Ben Stroh. Both individuals were strong, fast, and ran through defenders like a runaway train. This season, Robby Klingaman will step up as the featured back, but head coach Matt Molyneaux has already said the Beeters will look to be more balanced on offense, utilizing some speedy receivers and arm of Zach Molyneaux at quarterback. It will be an interesting season for the Beeters and may look different at first glance to a lot of fans.
5 – If you are still thinking that football is a mans game, you haven’t taken a look around the Hi-Line lately. Havre’s Corissa White and Box Elder’s Rebecca Rosette must not be too big of fans of volleyball, golf or cross country, as they will both line up on the gridiron this year. White has been on the Ponies' roster for a couple years now, and Rosette will get her first taste of varsity action this season in a Bears uniform.
6 – Teams always strive to reach the postseason, but after a couple of years of reaching that goal, even that isn’t good enough for a competitive program. That is the case for the Big Sandy Pioneers and the 6-Man playoffs. Big Sandy has reached the state semifinals two years in a row now, and both times, the Pioneers have come up just short. The Pioneers are hoping to improve on last years’ 10-1 regular season record, and 10-2 record overall, and finally reach the always coveted state championship game.
7 – It obviously doesn’t stand in comparison to the Class A state trophy, but the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) traveling trophy is important to the Havre High Blue Ponies and Whitefish Bulldogs. The Ponies and Bulldogs open their season facing off with each other every year, with both teams coming from major railroad towns, it is only fitting there is a BNSF traveling trophy on the line. Last year the Ponies defeated the Bulldogs 54-25 to keep the trophy for the fifth staright season. Also with the win, the Ponies have kept the trophy eight out of the last 11 years. The trophy will be back up for grabs on Saturday, when the Ponies and Bulldogs kickoff in Whitefish at 2 p.m.
8 – 6-Man football is an interesting thing. And if there are still football fans on the Hi-Line that haven’t taken in the 6-man experience, I encourage you to do so. Between the schedules of Big Sandy, North Star, and Box Elder, there will be plenty of opportunity this fall. And while it can be confusing and even chaotic at times, it has a different element of excitement that 11-Mand, and even 8-Man football. You haven’t watched small town Montana football until you have seen the center snap the ball, streak down the field, and reel in a 20-yard touchdown pass from the quarterback, running back or even a throwing wide receiver.
9 – With the 2011 Northern C 8-Man title on the line, the Chester/J-I Hawks and Chinook Sugarbeeters faced off in what was probably one of the best prep football games in all of Montana. Both teams entered the contest 6-0, and neither team showed any signs of quit in a game that took three overtimes to settle. The Beeters won that game 42-34, and there are a lot of fans from both Chinook and Chester/J-I that have been counting down the days until a rematch. Well, that day is almost here, and if fans can get to the field in Chester on Friday, August 31 at 7:30 p.m., they shouldn’t be disappointed.
10 – It is no secret that Rocky Boy high school puts a lot of emphasis on their basketball season, especially with the overwhelming success the Stars have found in recent years. But as Rocky Boy also continues to groom a football program, local fans, coaches and players are hoping this is the last year with a junior varsity schedule. Neighboring high school, Box Elder took their lumps the last couple of years, and Rocky Boy isn’t far behind. It doesn’t sound like much, but the Stars roster houses 16 athletes this season, a sizable jump from the winless season a year ago, that housed just 13 kids and traveled with just 11 most of the season. If the Stars can show improvement in 2012, local fans may have another varsity program to cheer on next year.