By Kim Staudinger
With only two games left to the Blue Pony football season, junior quarterback Justin Kegel gets his chance to shine this weekend against the Park County Rangers.
Kegel, the brother of former Pony quarterback and Washington State backup quarterback Matt Kegel, is starting in place of senior Danny Wirtzberger.
School district officials said Wirtzberger is not playing because of a rules violation. They would not provide details about the violation, saying a district policy regarding student privacy prohibited that.
"There was a rule violation that occurred," School Superintendent Kirk Miller said. "Therefore, we have a change in the lineup and Justin will be the starting quarterback. He's coming in with the right attitude and that's where our focus needs to be."
Kegel, a defensive back for the Ponies this season, has had only a few plays at quarterback.
"I don't feel pressure," Kegel said. "I feel nerves. I'm pretty excited. I hope the team does well and that we get a win out of it."
Despite the team having a 3-3 record and not having a shot of making the playoffs, Purcell said his team is positive and has to focus on beating Livingston this Friday.
"We have to go in with the attitude we are going to win this game," Purcell said. "Every game is a must win for us. This will be good for Kegel to get that varsity experience this year."
Having battled injuries of late, the Ponies are being forced to move different players around in order to compensate. Steve Harman is recovering from an injury and will return to playing tailback. Senior Kevin Harada, a running back and linebacker who broke his jaw against Laurel, will play on the offensive and defensive lines. Daine Solomon, a sophomore running back and linebacker, will also see some playing time at tailback.
While junior wideout Steve Heberly's toe injury is healing and senior wide receiver Kyle Sheppard is getting used to playing defensive back with a cast, the Ponies suffered a big blow losing senior tight end/defensive lineman Jason Johnstone to a knee injury.
Even with the injuries and a different quarterback, the Ponies plan to use the same option offense they have all year.
"We are going to run the same stuff we have been running all year," Purcell said.
"I feel great with the option," Kegel said. "I feel very comfortable with it and I am going to try to do the best I can. I know I am capable of leading this team."
The Ponies, who were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend in Belgrade, want to end the season on a positive note, making the game with Park an important one.
"Our season's not over yet," Purcell said. "We've got to win these next two games to have a successful season."
Although Park has only scored 27 points in six games this year and averages 113 total yards per game, the Ponies have been shut out in their last two games.
"They are a lot better this year than last year," Purcell said. "They just came off a win against Browning and it would make their whole year to beat the Ponies."
"The film we've watched, they look fairly tough. You never really know," Kegel said. "We're going to do our best and drive it to them and get our confidence back to end our season on a good note."
Kegel said the team peaked at Whitefish earlier in the season and, while other teams have improved, the Ponies have never really stepped it up to the next level, possibly explaining the difficulty Havre has had in conference play. But, Kegel said, the team has to put those games in the past and focus on winning the next two games.
"We've gotta finish strong," he said. "We are going to pound it to them and score as many points as we can and not put so much pressure on our defense."
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.