By Harvey Brock
The Havre Blue Ponies withstood a sloppy first half to overpower the Whitefish Bulldogs 28-17 Saturday in Whitefish.
The Blue Ponies stampeded back after Whitefish scored on the opening possession of the second half to take a 17-7 lead. Senior quarterback Dan Wirtzberger connected on scoring passes of 52, eight and 18 yards, and the defense, led by senior linebacker Kevin Harada, held the Bulldogs scoreless the rest of the way.
The first half, however, belonged to the Whitefish Bulldogs.
Sparked by senior running back Alex Maetzold's 23-yard run, the Bulldogs scored first on junior kicker Andrew Bruce's 26-yard field goal.
Havre answered the Bulldogs' field goal by marching 65 yards on 14 straight running plays, featuring the power running Harada. Harada led the Ponies in rushing with 100 yards on 15 carries.
Wirtzberger capped off the drive on a 10-yard touchdown run. Wirtzberger kicked the extra point to give Havre a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Whitefish Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the day when quarterback Tucker Ferda completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Watson.
Andrew Bruce kicked the extra point, giving Whitefish a 10-7 lead.
Penalties, mistakes and turnovers stymied both offenses the rest of the first half.
Whitefish began the second half on its own 31-yard line. Led by Maetzold, the Bulldogs needed only five plays to score their second touchdown of the day.
Maetzold swept around left end for a 35-yard score. He led all rushers with 122 yards on 16 carries.
Whitefish converted the kick to take a 10-point lead with 9:22 left in the third.
"The third quarter was the key. After they scored on the opening possession of the first half, I knew I had to lead my team back," said Wirtzberger, who rushed and passed for 219 yards and four touchdowns.
Havre answered back less than two minutes later with a six-play touchdown drive of 75 yards. The Ponies scored on a 52-yard bomb from Wirtzberger to junior wide receiver Steve Heberly, whose three catches for 75 yards led the Ponies in receiving,
The extra point kick failed and Havre trailed 17-13.
"We just really played crappy in the first half," Heberly said. "I knew we had to play better to win."
Whitefish fumbled the ball away on its next drive, and the Blue Ponies, mixing the run and pass once again, wasted little time to score.
An eight-yard pass from Wirtzberger to Kyle Sheppard ended the seven-play drive.
After an illegal procedure penalty on the Ponies, Wirtzberger found tight end Jason Johnstone for a seven-yard completion for the two-point conversion that gave the Blue Ponies a 21-17 point lead.
Havre junior defensive back Bobby Bergren intercepted a Whitefish pass on the Bulldogs' next drive, and Harada scored the final points of the day on an 18-yard screen pass from Wirtzberger.
The six-play 45-yard drive and successful extra point kick ended the third quarter with the Blue Ponies leading 28-17.
Neither team could manage a sustained drive in the fourth quarter. The Pony defense held the Bulldogs to only two first downs on three possessions in the fourth.
A third down sack by senior defensive lineman Jacob Lorang and a fourth down interception by senior linebacker Jacob Szudra ended Whitefish's hopes.
The Blue Ponies ran out the clock's final 2:21 for a 28-17 victory.
"Conditioning really hurt our team," Whitefish coach Mike Ferda said. "You try to get your team to prepare but we weren't prepared. We had three or four starters out at the start of the second half with cramps, including both starting cornerbacks, who also play wide receiver. The young kids who filled in for the starters played hard, but it upsets your team when starters go down.
"Havre did a good job of responding every time we scored. When a team can do that, it speaks to the character of the team, and tells you they're the real deal," he said.
"I knew the game would come down to who was most prepared and which team made the fewest mistakes," Havre coach Troy Purcell said. "I wasn't worried when we were down 10 points early in the second half. We made some adjustments to take away their option, and our defense played a sound game. This team, like last year's, always seems to wait till they get down before they rally.
"Overall the team played great and showed a lot of character to come from behind. This was a good win, but next week we have another tough game on the road to play Sidney. We are going to see a lot of Montana in these two weeks," he said.
WF-FG Andrew Bruce 26 yards
H-Dan 10 yard-run (Wirzberger kick)
WF-Michael Watson 15 yard pass from Tucker Ferda (Bruce Kick)
WF-Alex Maetzold 35-yard run (Bruce kick)
H-Steve Heberly 52 pass from Wirtzberger (kick failed)
H-Kyle Sheppard 8 pass from Wirtzberger ( Jason Johnstone pass from Wirtzberger)
H-Kevin Harada 17 pass from Wirtzberger (Wirtzberger kick)
RUSHING Havre: 38-183 (Dan Wirtzberger 19-53, Kevin Harada 15-100, Levi Briese 2-19. Jared Gabriel 1-8). Whitefish 35-166 (Alex Maetzold 16-122, Brian Meyer 4-16, Ben Melichar 7-20, Tucker Ferda 7-8)
PASSING Havre: Dan Wirtzberger 12-21-166. Whitefish: Tucker Ferda 7-17- 82-2.
RECEIVING Havre: Kyle Sheppard 5-34, Levi Briese 2-20, Steve Heberly 3-75, Bobby Bergren 1-9, Jason Johnstone 2-8, Kevin Harada 1-17. Whitefish: Andrew Bruce 1-9, Ben Melichar 1-6, Cooper Muraoke 2-16, Brian Meyer 1-2, Michael Watson 2-49.