In a perfect situation, the Havre High football team will be running on all cylinders now that the nonconference portion of the schedule has concluded. But right out of the nonconference gate, and now entering V=Central A play, the Blue Ponies must face a very tough opponent to find out just how smoothly they are running.
Tonight at 7, the Central A Ponies will host the conference rival Belgrade Panthers at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. Tonight’s game is also homecoming for the Blue Ponies.
But while homecoming games are typically easy wins for a team, that isn’t the case this year. To start the season the Ponies dropped three straight games before defeating Sidney last weekend 40-26 in Havre. And now sitting at 1-4 on the season, the Ponies know they must be at the top of their game if they hope to keep the winning streak rolling, earning their first conference win in the mean time.
“We have a very tough opponent in Belgrade coming,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “And these (conference) games are the ones that mean something. And as far as getting our goals of being conference champions and getting to the playoffs, these games are more exciting and there is just more on the line. The kids are pretty excited for this game.”
Belgrade is 2-2 entering tonight, but is also coming off of an impressive win, as they defeated Miles City 20-16 last weekend in Belgrade.
The Panther offense has been dynamic at times already this season, heavily relying on their two-back running game. But Sophomore quarterback Dillon Marks has also been impressive at times, giving the Panthers solid success in the air as well. Wide receivers such as Tristan Walker have already connected with Marks on several deep passes this season, but the Ponies are still expecting a heavy dose of run plays tonight.
“That is our focal point,” Christenson said. “They have a young quarterback who is a very capable kid, but they rely on those running backs. If we can slow those guys down, we aren’t going to stop them, they are going to get their yards, but if we slow them down and limit their big plays and long rushing plays then we should have a pretty good shot.”
Against Miles City the Panthers rushed for 125 yards and one touchdown, while Marks had a career day with 164 yards passing.
Stopping the running game begins with the Ponies’ defensive line, clogging the holes and not letting any speedy backs bounce the ball outside. But just as Christenson said last week, stopping the run depends on the entire defense, so look for everybody to step up. Linebacker Jordan Schroder, lineman Dustin Odegard and defensive end Tyler Adams all had great games last weekend, and should look to keep rolling.
Marks also threw two interceptions last weekend, so defensive backs Zach Plum and Thomas Gruber could also benefit if the Panthers have to abandon the run game.
On offense, the Ponies are more concerned with their jobs than what the Panthers are going to do. HHS found its way into the end zone six different times last time on the field, making the game sort of a breakout performance for the offense. The Ponies want to keep that momentum against the Panthers tonight, and know how important it is facing a team like Belgrade after a solid win.
“It is always important to start your conference schedule with some confidence,” Christenson said. “And that win was a huge confidence builder. The kids are improving every week, and not only that, as coaches we also improved. We needed to see where we were lacking and where we needed to improve, and just plug those holes. Hopefully we are in alignment for conference play.
“As far as the offense goes,” Christenson added. “Our offensive line needs to tighten up the execution, mainly in our running attack. We can’t keep relying on our passing game and wide receivers to bail us out. We are doing well so far with that part of our offense, but we have to start establishing the run game, and we have put that on the shoulders of our linemen this week.”
Odegard, Travis Adams, Ruben Stewart, Tyler Adams, and Rocky Kuhr are the starting offensive linemen, and will carry the load tonight.
Quarterback Dane Warp has grown comfortable throwing to Gruber, Plum and Thurman Holdsclaw especially, but Holdsclaw and Tristan Manuel are looking to spark a little more production on the ground. Holdsclaw leads the running game, mostly because of his ability to break tackles and make something out of nothing, but Manuel can also be dangerous if the hole is there.
The Ponies will look to establish the run game, as well as stop the Panthers’ running game. They also hope to force the Panthers to throw more than planned, as the Ponies will look to capture their first conference win of the season tonight.
Havre will host Belgrade tonight at 7 p.m. at the Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.
Tonight's Havre High Starters
Havre High Starters
Dane Warp, QB, FR
Tristan Manuel, RB, JR
Thurman Holdsclaw, RB, SR
Zach Plum, WR, SR
Thomas Gruber, WR, JR
Ned Malone, WR, JR
Jake Williams, TE, JR
Dustin Odegard, OL, SR
Travis Adams, OL, FR
Ruben Stewart, OL, SO
Tyler Adams, OL, JR
Rocky Kuhr, OL, SO
Tyrell Pierce, LB, SO
Jordan Schroeder, LB, SO
Jake Williams, LB, JR
Chet Shrauger, DB, SR
Zach Plum, DB, SR
Ned Malone, DB, JR
Thurman Holdsclaw, DL, SR
Tyler Adams, DL, JR
Dustin Odegard, DL, SR
JT Belcourt, DL, FR