Whitefish and Havre High face off in the season opener every year in football, and with both programs splitting the series 1-1 over the last two seasons, the Central A Blue Ponies know they will have a battle on their hands.
A year ago the Ponies finished the season 4-5 overall, but dropped the season opener to the Northwest A Bulldogs. The Bulldogs defeated the Ponies 45-24 in Whitefish, reclaiming the BNSF traveling trophy in the process. But the Ponies will look to bring the coveted trophy back to Havre, as they face the Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Saturday in Whitefish.
HHS kept the BNSF traveling trophy for five straight seasons before Whitefish earned the win in 2012. And even with the loss last season, the Ponies have still won eight out of the last 12 meetings against their rival across the Rocky Mountains.
“They (Bulldogs) are going to be a tough team again,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “They got us down there last year and they have a talented group coming back. They have a talented quarterback and are very well-coached, we are expecting a tough contest and it should be a good game.”
It is a non-conference matchup, but the Ponies would still love to enter the season with a 1-0 start, rather than with a loss like in 2012.
The HHS defense will have some key figures to try and stop on Saturday in order to leave Whitefish with a victory. Sophomore quarterback Luke May leads the Bulldogs, and will look to hurt the Ponies with his arm. As a freshman, the 6-2, 185-pound May put up over 340 yards in the air against the Ponies, and connected with receivers for three passing touchdowns. Tyler Adams (defensive end), Jace Billy (linebacker), and Jacob Williams (linebacker) will be key in stopping May with their stunts and pressure. But defensive backs like Thomas Gurber, Ned Malone and Trever Jensen will have to limit the passing game by juggling some talented receivers.
And while the Ponies’ passing game has proved to be as potent as they come over the last few years, HHS is also looking to get the running game rolling early in the season.
Returning sophomore quarterback Dane Warp is the leader of the Blue Pony offense, and will target Gruber on the majority of his passes. But Malone and Nate Rismon are also talented receivers that should see quite a few targets. And if the offensive line can continue to improve, the Ponies would also like to maintain their balance with a running threat. Billy, Tristan Manuel, and Jordan Schroeder may be in on the running game, but sophomore Kody Pribyl has been very impressive this summer, and could find his way into a starting role. Either way, the Ponies do want to show balance against the Bulldogs.
Mistakes are also a concern heading into Saturday.
In last years’ meeting, the Ponies committed costly mistakes late in the fourth quarter, allowing the Bulldogs to go on a 21-0 run in the final two minutes of regulation. But if the Ponies can play closer to mistake free football on Saturday, they have to like their chances of coming out on top.
“If we can run the ball and keep our composure and not get down on ourselves (we will be OK),” Christenson said. “We are going to make mistakes this early in the season, but if we can hold our composure and play hard through those mistakes, I think we will be OK.”
The Bulldogs and Ponies will both start the 2013 season on Saturday in Whitefish. The non-conference kickoff is at 2 p.m.