By George Ferguson
Despite picking up perhaps its biggest win of the season, things aren't getting any easier for the Havre High football team. Such is life in the Central A Conference. Every game is crucial when you're trying to win a conference championship.
The defending state champion Lewistown Eagles now stand in the way of Havre's march to the Central A crown. The Ponies will take on Lewistown tonight in Lewistown.
The Ponies, 2-0 in conference and 3-2 overall, are coming off of a huge 41-18 drubbing of conference foe Laurel. The Eagles come into the contest having defeated Browning 18-2. The Eagles have an identical 3-2 overall mark and are also 2-0 in conference play.
Havre head coach Troy Purcell knows what is riding on this game.
"This is huge for both teams," Purcell said. "If we can win this game it could very well mean the conference championship."
The Ponies, in the midst of riding a three-game winning streak, come into the battle with Lewistown having been bitten by the injury bug.
Quarterback Justin Kegel has an injured throwing arm. Halfback Steven Harman, who suffered a broken nose in last weekend's win over Laurel, is expected to start but how much he'll play is unknown at this point.
"Kegel hasn't thrown a ball all week and we don't know how effective Harman will be," Purcell said. "And Colby Mader is hurt as well so it is going to be tough."
The Eagles are coming into this game looking to stave off a hungry Havre team as well. The Ponies were drubbed in Havre last season by Lewistown 34-7. From that point, the two teams went in completely different directions. The Ponies missed out on the 2001 playoffs, while the Eagles went on to eventually defeat Whitefish in the state championship game.
Lewistown came into the 2002 season with an entirely new starting backfield. But quarterback Derek Taylor (6-1, 180) has assumed the role of leader and is playing very well. The Eagles have a legitimate big play threat in star wide receiver Doug Longfellow (5-11, 150), who has several TD receptions on the season and has taken three kickoffs back for touchdowns as well. Lewistown also has a very large and physical offensive line to protect Taylor.
On defense, the Eagles lost several key players from last season but return all-state cornerback Chris Otto (5-9, 145), and a very experienced and sizable defensive line. Tackle Tyler Blair (6-2,230) is the anchor of both the offensive and defensive fronts.
"Lewistown's defense is very solid," Purcell said. "We will have to do a much better job moving the ball on them and picking up their linebackers than we did last year."
Offensively, Purcell said Lewistown has a very simple game plan, but it is effective. The Eagles run and throw out of the I formation with a lead blocking fullback.
"We just need to keep doing what we have been doing," Purcell said. "We need to move the ball effectively and stop their running game, and keep the turnovers out of the game. If we can do those things, we'll be fine."
The battle between the Ponies and Eagles will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Fergus High Stadium in Lewistown. The game can be heard on 610 KOJM in Havre.