By Alan Sorensen
Havre's Blue Ponies put up a valiant fight before falling 16-0 to Dillon Beavers in a Class A state football championship playoff semifinal game at home Saturday.
"You have a good year, but it's a tough game," Head Coach Troy Purcell said. "Nine out of 10 years you make the playoffs you lose that last game. Everyone wants to go one game farther, but it's tough."
Havre shot itself in the foot to start the game when quarterback Dan Wirtzberger tried a pass into a strong West wind and Dillon intercepted.
The Pony defense stiffened, though, and Dillon had to convert a fourth-down play before finally getting the ball into the end zone on a five-yard dive play with 9:30 left in the first. The extra point was good and Havre trailed 7 to 0.
"You know, you start the game, you have misfortune on the first play of the game, it hurts our confidence," Purcell said. "It's a hard way to start out."
On its next possession, Havre recovered from a third and 18 at its own 35 yard line with a 17-yard screen pass and run to the right by Brent Finneman. On the fourth and one, the Ponies pulled off a fake punt with a short snap to Wirtzberger who ran up the middle to the Dillon 46 for a first and 10. The Ponies stalled there, though, and were forced to punt on a fourth and 11.
The first quarter ended with Dillon marching deep into Blue Pony territory and sitting third and one at the 28. The Ponies stiffened and forced the Beavers into a fourth and seven play at the 22. The pass fell incomplete and the Ponies took over.
The Ponies were unable to move against the stingy Dillon defense and had to punt from their own 28. The Beavers started at their 30 and got as far as the 44 before stalling. The Ponies were flagged on the ensuing punt return and had to start at their own 14.
Havre put together its best drive of the day, moving the ball with an 8-yard pass to Grant Roman, 5-yard run by Kevin Harada, a series of scrambles by Wirtzberger and an 18-yard burst by Harada got the Ponies to the Beavers' 9 yard line with 2:04 left in the half. Havre lost yardage and had to settle for a field-goal try with 44 seconds left in the half. David Knight's kick went wide and Dillon settled for a 7 to 0 lead at the half.
"You get inside the 10 and you've got to get that thing in the end zone," Purcell said. "We didn't capatalize when we were there.
"If we score, it would have been 7 to 7 at half time," Purcell said. "I figured that (missed) field goal was going to come back and haunt us because I thought we were going to put points on the board in the second half."
Dillon started off the second half with good field position after moving Havre's squib kick into the wind to its own 38. The Beavers used a control offense to move deep down to the Havre 6. The Ponies held and with a fourth and 4 at the 6 with 7:09 left in the quarter, Dillon chose to add a field goal to go up 10-0.
Havre was unable to get anything going on its next drive and had to punt. Dillon appeared to have great field position, but the Blue Ponies stiffened and sacked the Beavers' quarterback three times. The first was for 10 yards, followed by a 15-yard clipping penalty on Dillon. The Ponies' second sack of the possession was for 10 yards, too. The third was for five yards to put the ball on the Dillon 17 and give the Beavers' a fourth and 54.
Joe Roman returned the punt to the Dillon 46. On the first play from scrimmage, Wirtzberger ran a keeper to the left for a good gain. The Ponies were called for a clip, though, and the ball was moved back to the Pony 26. Havre ended up punting on a fourth-and-29 play.
"That penalty, clipping penalty hurt that drive," Purcell said. "That was a terrible call. We had the drive going and had that clipping call right there that shut that drive down, but that happens.
"That's when we started driving on offense because we had the momentum and then we got that penalty."
The Beavers controlled the ball with several runs off tackle and through the middle for the rest of the game. Their final score came on a quarterback sneak on a second-and-inches play with 9:33 left in the game. The PAT was wide to the left.
The two teams struggle back and forth in the fourth quarter with neither team mounting a real threat.
"They ran that trap play a lot, and they ran that veer option," Purcell said. "They ran it real well had that combo block coming down on the linebackers and they executed that real well."
Seniors playing their last game for the Blue and White were Kyle Sheppard, David Knight, Joe Roman, Grant Roman, Brent Finneman, Chad Maney, Tyler Sheppard, Dirk Wright, Kris Myers, Matt Sasaki, Shawn Solomon and Ryan Fink.
Purcell said he was proud of the team and his coaches, assistants Mike Leinwand, John Tooke, Travis Heggem, Jason Christianson, Nate Lazlovich annd Mark Laine.
"All the coaches did an exceptional job this year," Purcell said. "The kids played reall well all year and it was real positive."
Purcell added that now is the time for the team to start focusing on next year.
"We've got to get in the weight room," he said. "I mentioned that to the kids right after the game. I want the kids to be competitive in basketball, wrestling, track, be as competitive as they can."
He said the off-season training and lifting is essential to a successful season.
"When someone's got 20 pounds on you, it really makes a difference," he said. "(The Beavers) were definitely bigger than we were."
Dillon, which has never won a state football championship, will play host to fourth-ranked and defending champion Hamilton in next Saturday's title game.