There have been a lot of important games and landmark wins in the Havre High football program’s history, and nine years ago, the first home game of the 2004 season was one of the biggest.
Now, the Blue Ponies and Glendive Red Devils don’t meet very often, but back in the day, these two teams used to clash on the gridiron quite a bit, and even battled for the coveted Moore Trophy. In 2004 the meeting between the Ponies and Red Devils went in Havre’s favor, but more importantly it was the launching pad for a perfect 12-0 season and a Class A state title under the guidance of former head coach Troy Purcell.
Heading into the season the Ponies were a heavy favorite in the Class A ranks.
After a 21-6 win over the Red Devils in week one, the Ponies quickly became the No. 1 ranked team in the state, a ranking they wouldn’t relinquish. After the week one win, the Ponies also defeated Billings Central, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Livingston, Belgrade, Lewistown, Butte Central and Browning in the regular season. Havre also took down Stevensville in the quarterfinals, Libby in the semifinals, and again, Billings Central 34-21 in the state chipper.
The Ponies didn’t falter in the season debut, but they did get off to a slow start against the Red Devils in the first half.
Neither team scored in the opening frame, but Glendive managed to score in the second quarter, taking a scary 6-0 lead over the Ponies at the half. But the Ponies housed 20 seniors in 2004, and the poised and experienced squad didn’t panic. Instead, two of the top former-Ponies in recent history connected for help to carry the Ponies to what turned out to be a very important victory. Gary Wagner hit Marc Mariani on an eight-yard scoring pass and on a 39-yard scoring pass. Mariani also ran in a third score from 13 yards out, as the Ponies scored 21 unanswered points.
Wagner finished 20-of-27 for 230 yards in the air and Mariani had four catches for 96 yards.
The adjustments made at half were crucial for the Ponies. But more importantly, the Ponies just needed to take care of the ball to get the win.
After nearly 10 minutes of possession through the first quarter, Wagner was picked off to start the second. The Red Devils turned that pick into a 33-yard touchdown pass and a 6-0 lead. And the Ponies’ second long drive, this time of six minutes, resulted in the same ending, this time a pick in the end zone. Both teams were scoreless in the third quarter, and the Ponies were lucky to keep it that way after a fumbled punt was recovered by the Red Devils in the frame.
But with all of the HHS turnovers, the momentum changed with a Glendive turnover late in the third. This time it was the Red Devils who coughed up the ball and the Ponies’ Rick Houim was there to scoop it up.
The quarter ended with the Ponies driving, and the fourth quarter meant plenty of time for the Ponies to get on the board three times and route to the first of their 12 victories and the always-coveted Class A state football title.