Strong running attack propels Laurel to Class A state football championship
By George Ferguson
Two teams came to Blue Pony Stadium with the dream of winning the Class A state championship in football Saturday afternoon. The visiting Laurel Locomotives saw that dream come true as they defeated the Havre Blue Ponies 21-19 in front of one of the biggest crowds in stadium history.
The Locomotives used the two- headed rushing attack of quarterback Jeff Fischer and tailback Trevon Hegel to pound the ball at the Ponies all day long. Fischer led the way for the Locomotives with 155 yards on 31 carries while Hegel added 146 yards rushing on 23 carries despite an injured shoulder.
Laurel head coach Mike Ludwig was very proud of how his team played throughout the playoffs and in the championship game, and was also proud of the way Fischer and Hegel ran the ball.
"Jeff Fischer is a great quarterback and he had a great game for us today. He just never quits running. He just doesn't ever quit," Ludwig said. "And Trevon also showed a lot of heart out there today playing through his injury. Those two guys really led us to victory today."
Ludwig is also very mindful of what his team accomplished.
"This is just a tremendous feeling," Ludwig said. "This is very exciting for our players and the community."
While Laurel came out running at Havre right from the start of the game, the Ponies had trouble getting their offense going in the first half. Havre was never able to establish a ground game, which had been a key to their success all season long.
Havre netted just five yards rushing on the day, which head coach Troy Purcell admitted was crucial in a game of this magnitude.
"They really dominated the line of scrimmage," Purcell said. "We could never get our running game going. In the first half I think we came out a little tentative, and I'll always take the blame when that happens. But you have to give credit to Laurel. Coach Ludwig had a great game plan and his team played a tremendous game today."
Laurel opened the game with a turnover at the eight-minute mark of the first quarter as Hegel fumbled the ball at the 24-yard line, but Havre could not capitalize. On the Locomotives' next possession, their rushing game took over as the Locomotives put together a three-minute drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown run by Hegel. Kicker Wyman Petro's point after attempt sailed through the uprights, giving the Locomotives a 7-0 lead with four minutes left in the first quarter. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
Turnovers would prove costly in the game. Havre committed its second when Justin Kegel was intercepted by Laurel senior Zach Fox with 9:42 left in the first half. The Locomotives capitalized, needing just two plays as Hegel broke several tackles and scampered 37 yards to the end zone giving the Locomotives a commanding 14-0 lead.
Hegel's tackle-breaking run was a microcosm of the problems that would haunt the Ponies throughout the day.
"Both Fischer and Hegel played great today and their offensive line did a tremendous job," Purcell said. "But we had chances to make some plays and we missed a lot of tackles."
Havre had gained only one first down before beginning its first scoring drive at the 38-yard line with 8:43 left in the first half.
Kegel rebounded from his earlier interception to complete four passes three to Daine Solomon the last of which resulted in Havre's first points of the day. Solomon hauled in a 30-yard strike from Kegel on a play-action pass. However, Solomon missed the crucial PAT, leaving the score at 14-6.
Despite all of Kegel's completions on the drive, the biggest play came as the Ponies were faced with a fourth down and four to go at midfield. Purcell gambled and ran a fake punt with the ball being snapped to wideout Steve Heberly, who ran for the first down. The gutsy call kept the drive alive, enabling Kegel to hook up with Solomon for the score.
Although the Locomotives couldn't answer Havre's score, they didn't allow the Ponies any more possessions in the first half holding the ball for the final four minutes of the half.
Time of possession was something the Locomotives felt was a key to winning. Laurel held the ball for 15 minutes of the 24-minute first half.
"We wanted to control the clock and we did that very effectively," Ludwig said. "We only threw the ball three times. That's all we needed to. I was very pleased with how our guys executed our offensive game plan."
Trailing 14-6 at halftime, the Ponies capitalized on a Fischer fumble recovered by Kegel. Havre resorted to a little trickery as it executed a perfect "fumblerooski" that found lineman Buck Christofferson rumbling 33 yards for a touchdown. Purcell was forced to go for a two-point conversion, but Levi Briese was unable to get the ball across the goal line on a pitch. It was a play that would prove costly.
In the fourth quarter, turnovers would once again hurt Havre as it committed two costly ones. A fumble by Kegel with 11 minutes remaining allowed the Locomotives to go ahead 21-12 as Hegel scored on a 17-yard run with 10:25 remaining in the game. Petro's extra point was good, leaving the score at 21-12.
The Ponies answered with a solid drive deep into Laurel territory, but with 7 minutes remaining on the clock Kegel was picked off by linebacker Jim Nelson.
Laurel was content to run the clock down as it had all day, but with 1:36 left in the game Hegel fumbled for the second time. Kegel recovered it on the Laurel 46-yard line, giving the Ponies a little life. Two plays later Kegel found Solomon on a 39-yard touchdown pass. Solomon's PAT was good, leaving the Ponies trailing by two points.
Havre then attempted an onside kick but Laurel senior Zach Fox recovered the kick and Fischer was able to take four snaps to run out the clock and dash Havre's hopes of winning its first state championship since 1970.
Although disappointed, Purcell was able to put the game into perspective.
"We made some mistakes that cost us," Purcell said. "But you have to give them a lot of credit. To win on the road like they did is tremendous and it was their day today."
Turnovers perhaps played one of the biggest factors in the game. Laurel turned the ball over four times and the Ponies gave the ball up three times, and each team was able to get points off the mistakes.
While Fischer and Hegel gained more than 300 yards rushing between them, the Ponies' leading rusher was Christofferson. Briese was held to just five yards on six carries. Kegel threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns but was also intercepted twice. He was also sacked five times on the day. Solomon had six catches for 120 yards and two scores. Heberly also had a fine day with four catches for 83 yards.
But the day belonged to Hegel and Fischer, who were quick to lend praise to the work of their offensive line.
"Our line makes everything so much easier," Fischer said. "They are powerful and they just blow guys off the line of scrimmage."
Said Hegel: "We have an amazing offensive and defensive line. I think defense is where they really stepped up because they put a lot of pressure on Kegel and forced him to throw quicker than he wanted to."
Ludwig agreed with his stars' assessment of the game.
"Both our lines played tremendous today," Ludwig said. "They worked hard and allowed our backs to get a lot of yards."
Despite being disappointed with coming up just short, Purcell is proud of what his team accomplished over the past year.
"I'm disappointed for our kids and our fans," Purcell said. "Our guys showed a lot of heart. They fought back and never quit."