The excitement of the season opener is behind the Havre High football team, but heading into week two of the young season, the excitement of the Blue Ponies’ home opener is just as intense.
After a tough loss to Whitefish on the road last Saturday, the Central A Ponies will make their home debut. Tonight the lights will shine on Blue Pony Stadium for the first time this season, hosting a nonconference opponent at a special time. The Eastern A Miles City Cowboys (0-1) and Ponies (0-1) will kickoff at 6 p.m.
Since taking over as the HHS head football coach, Jason Christenson and the Ponies have not beaten the Cowboys. And over the last three years, the Cowboys have handed the Ponies some very lopsided losses, including knocking the Ponies out of the first round of the state playoffs in 2010. If the Ponies can take down the Cowboys tonight, it could be milestone win for the program, putting the accomplishment up there near the 2002 win over the Cowboys.
“To get this win would be great,” Christenson said. “It would be good to get that monkey off of our backs. We haven’t beaten them since I have been here, but it would do even more for our kids and their confidence. Miles City is a tough team out of the East year in and year out, so if we could pull out a win, it would go a long way for our kids and be a great win at the start of our season.”
The Blue Ponies (0-1) have big play capability behind Class A All-State quarterback Dane Warp, and speedy defensive backs like Thomas Gruber and Trevor Jensen. But if the Ponies want to get a win over the Cowboys tonight, mistake-free football has to be the motto. The Ponies can’t have the same penalties they had against Whitefish. Those mistakes kept the Whitefish offense on the field after third-and-long situations and would-be punts. Warp did have two interceptions, but those have to be limited as well. The Ponies also put in a lot of special teams work after giving up a punt return and kick return for scores last week.
“We needed to clean up the mistakes we made,” Christenson said. “Our enthusiasm was great during the Whitefish game, but they can’t let it overwhelm them. But the kids understand that now, and I think this should be a pretty good ballgame. When you are playing good football teams, you can’t make the mental mistakes that result in stupid penalties. You have to synch up the belt and keep battling through mistakes you can’t control, but we have to eliminate the mistakes we can control, like those penalties. I think if we can do that and keep our emotion for four quarters, I think we will be ok.”
Defensively, the Ponies know they have to contain a speedy and accurate Cowboy quarterback in Ben Herzog. Herzog makes a lot of things happen for the Cowboys, and hopefully some personnel changes by the Ponies can get that job done.
Tyrell Pierce has been moved to the defensive end position, while standout defensive end Travis Adams has been shifted over into a tackle position on the defensive line. Gruber is also lined up as safety instead of a corner, while Alec Drew will make his first start as an HHS corner, adding speed and some height to the defensive back group.
Speed and athleticism will have to be the Ponies’ strength going against the massive size upfront for the Cowboys. Miles City averages 243 pounds on the line, including standout players like seniors Colton Pederson (6-3, 260) and Cody Wacker (6-3, 200), juniors Morgan Bishop (6-2, 250 Brendan Jordan (6-0, 245), and sophomore Cord Murray (5-11, 260).
And the Ponies must contend with an angry Miles City squad who was routed by Powell, Wyo., in its season-opener last weekend.
“It is what it is,” Christenson said. “We saw them last year and we just have to overcome that and play our football game. We have to play sudden and quick. We have to make our decisions and we have to make them quick, and get to the quarterback. If we hesitate, those big guys are going to get into us, and it is going to be a tough battle.”
Linebackers Jace Billy, Jordan Schroeder and Jake Williams will have to be the contain men the Ponies need against the Cowboys. If HHS flushes out Herzog, the linebacker core can’t allow him to rip off huge chunks of yards. And if they go to the running game, Billy, Schroeder, and Williams have to limit their production there as well.
Warp showed he is still a quarterback to be reckoned with, by going 19-of-28 for 323 passing yards despite six drops by his talented receivers in Whitefish. Warp needs to stay upright to be successful, and the offensive line has worked hard to build off of last weekend, including blocking for the running game better as well. Warp has a great connection with Gruber, Ned Malone and Nate Rismon already this season. All that mixed in with Billy blocking for a speedy Kody Pribyl out of the backfield, and the Ponies have all the weapons they need to be successful.
“If we eliminate the dropped balls, and eliminate the interceptions,” Christenson said. “I think we will execute on offense. I think a lot of that had to do with first game jitters against Whitefish, but I think the kids will come out fired up and ready to play. We have been working the offensive line again. They weren’t OK with their run blocking, so they have worked extra hard this week to clean up mistakes they made, so hopefully that will help us out too.”
The Blue Ponies and Cowboys will kick off tonight at 6 inside Blue Pony Stadium. Havre is back on the road next Friday at Sidney.
Havre High vs Miles City
Tonight at 6 p.m., Blue Pony Stadium
Radio: 610 KOJM AM