By George Ferguson
Needing a win to secure a Central A playoff berth, the Havre High football team, led by senior running back Levi Briese, took control of the Belgrade Panthers early and never looked back in its 33-6 win Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium.
Briese made the most of senior night as he amassed 254 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns. Briese, who usually plays fullback, was moved to the tailback spot because of an injury to Steven Harman. He took advantage of the opportunity to get a lot more carries.
Head coach Troy Purcell, while happy with Briese's performance, was quick to point out that he didn't do it alone.
"Levi had a tremendous night running the football," Purcell said. "But you have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Tyson Roe, Buck Christofferson, Tyler Thompson, Todd Sharpe, Chad Seely, Ben Mader and Colby Mader, because without those big guys blocking you can't rush for 254 yards."
Still, Briese is a captain and one of the most respected players on the team, and to see him excel was still pleasing for Purcell.
"It was fun to watch Levi running and breaking tackles and making moves when he got into the open," Purcell said.
Things again started off a little shaky for the Ponies. After Colby Mader missed a 27-yard field goal attempt, the Panthers put together a 6-minute drive that marched the ball down to the Havre 6-yard line. However, as quarterback Caleb Salisbury took the ball up the left side, defensive back Steve Heberly came up and laid a big hit on Salisbury, forcing a fumble on the 2-yard line. Justin Kegel fell on the loose ball for the Ponies. A change in momentum could be felt on the play.
"Heberly causing that fumble was the biggest play of the game," Purcell said. "Just when it looked like they were going to score, he comes up and makes a play. It really turned things in our favor."
After the turnover, the Ponies marched 98 yards in less than two minutes behind solid running from Briese. The drive was punctuated by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Justin Kegel to Heberly that gave the Ponies the a 7-0 lead.
The Ponies never looked back. In the second quarter, Briese scored on a sweep from 14 yards out, giving Havre a 14-0 lead at intermission.
Havre came out running in the third quarter as they marched 77 yards in five minutes behind more of Briese's long gains and some nice gains from Kegel. The methodical drive was capped off by Briese's 1-yard TD dive.
The Briese show continued later in the quarter as Havre had another four-minute drive on the ground that was capped off with Briese punching into the end zone from two yards out. The score put the Ponies up 26-0.
Belgrade managed a touchdown in the fourth period on a Nate Brown 25-yard TD scamper.
With four minutes left in the game, Briese finished his magical night with a 9-yard touchdown reception from Kegel on a late-developing screen pass. It was the fourth time Briese found the end zone on the night.
Overall, the Ponies racked up more than 500 yards of total offense. Kegel threw for 161 yards and two TDs, while rushing for 85 yards. Steve Heberly had a big night as well. He caught five balls for 117 yards and a score.
"The kids just played great," Purcell said. "Along with Levi, Justin Kegel and Steve Heberly had big games as well."
Defensively the Ponies held Belgrade to 283 total yards and managed to keep all-state fullback Jake Kallestad in check for most of the contest. Briese and Kegel combined for 14 tackles, but it was the play of sophomore Brett Michels that caught Purcell's attention.
"Brett Michels really stepped up on defense tonight," Purcell said. "For a sophomore making his first varsity start, he played really well."
The win pushes the Ponies' record to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Central A conference. Havre is all but assured a playoff berth, but where it will fall will all depend on next weekend's final games. The Ponies, who are sitting in third place, will visit Livingston on Friday.
Passing: Kegel, 9-21-0-161
Rushing: Briese, 30-254; Kegel, 11-85; Mader, 5-19; Micheals, 2-9
Receiving: Briese 2-16; Heberly, 5-117; Ben Mader, 1-22; Colby Mader 1-6