By George Ferguson
The last time the Havre High School football team stepped onto the field at Blue Pony Stadium, it was an emotional night. Things won't be any different tonight as the Ponies get set to host the Belgrade Panthers on Senior Night.
For seniors Ben Mader, Bobby Bergren, Steven Harman, Curt Leeds, Justin Kegel, Steve Heberly, Levi Briese, Tyler Thompson, Buck Christofferson, Tyson Roe, Jared Hofeldt and Todd Sharpe, tonight's game at Blue Pony Stadium will be an emotional farewell as they step onto the field for the final regular season game of their high school career.
"The seniors, as well as the entire team, will be fired up for this game," Havre head coach Troy Purcell said. "The underclassmen have dedicated this game to the seniors, so it will be an emotional game."
Other emotions factors into tonight's contest because the Ponies are still battling for a Central A playoff berth. The Ponies suffered a setback in the Central A conference standings last weekend in Lewistown when Havre fell to the Eagles 27-6. The Ponies are looking to regroup tonight and get to the playoffs.
Purcell is the first to admit there is a lot riding on this contest.
"Every conference game is big," Purcell said. "But this game is pretty much a must-win for us and hopefully we'll be ready to get the job done."
The Ponies will have to overcome a banged-up roster if they are going to get by the Panthers.
Quarterback Justin Kegel is still nursing an injured throwing arm, and tailback Daine Solomon has an injured hip.
"Kegel has thrown sparingly this week, but I think he'll be ready to go come game time," Purcell said.
Perhaps the biggest jolt was learning that starting halfback Steven Harman will have to sit out the remainder of the regular season due to surgery on his nose. Harman originally broke his nose two weeks ago in the homecoming win over Laurel, but he recently had surgery that will force him to miss the Ponies' final two contests of the season.
"We'll have some younger players like Colby Mader and Craig Kallenberger step in and fill some of the roles, but other than that we'll just move some guys around and try to work around some of these injuries," Purcell said.
The Panthers come into tonight's matchup fresh off of a 22-14 win over the Browning Indians last weekend. Belgrade is 2-4 overall on the season and 2-1 in conference play.
Purcell says the Panthers will definitely test his team on defense.
"They are a very good offensive team," Purcell said. "They run the option very well and they have some big, physical kids that do a good job executing their offense."
Defensively, Belgrade will look to stop a Havre team that has been rolling up yards the last few weeks. Despite the yardage, the Ponies had trouble getting points on the board last week in Lewistown.
"It all comes down to execution," Purcell said. "We are just going to keep doing what has made us successful, and it will be up to the 11 guys on offense to do their jobs."
The Panthers were a playoff team a year ago, but lost 17 starters to graduation. They are led this season by senior Jake Kallestad (5-10, 215) who plays linebacker and tailback. Kallestad is a player Purcell feels could be a key to tonight's matchup.
"Kallestad is a real force on defense and a pretty good running back," Purcell said. "He is a big, physical kid and a good defensive player."
The Panthers are also led by senior tight end Anthony Wells (6-1, 180). Wells is an all-state player from a year ago. On offense the rest of the unit is fairly young and inexperienced, and defensively the line is revamped as well.
"They have a new quarterback this year," Purcell said. "But he is very capable of running their offense, and he throws the ball pretty well."
The Ponies and Panthers will do battle at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard in Havre on 610 KOJM.