If there was any doubt that the Havre High offense still housed the capability to explode at any time, the Blue Ponies put that doubt to rest Friday night under the lights of Blue Pony Stadium.
The No. 2 Central A Ponies hosted the winless conference rival Lewistown Golden Eagles Friday in Havre. And for the first three quarters of action, the Ponies had local fans worried about an upset. The Ponies scored on the opening drive of the game, a two-yard pass from Dane Warp to Thomas Gruber. But after the quick 7-0 lead, the HHS offense went dormant against a tough Eagles’ defense. The Eagles went on to take a 21-7 lead after three unanswered rushing scores, a Dylan Stenseth score from one-yard out, a Stenseth score from nine-yards out, and finally a James Derheim score from one-yard out.
Heading into the fourth quarter the Ponies were just minutes away from an upset loss. But once the halftime adjustments kicked in, the ballgame turned around and the Pony offense looked like the record setting offense from a year ago.
The biggest adjustment was to protect Warp after a first half where he was picked up off the turf on every pass play.
“That was the difference in the game,” Warp said. “We can’t do what we did without that offensive line and that protection. We had great success against these guys last year and we knew they would come ready to play. But once we weathered the storm we knew we had hope in throwing the ball.
“That was a huge difference,” Thomas Gruber added. “Anytime we can give our quarterback a few extra seconds that’s perfect because he has the time to look, get his steps, and make the right throw.”
And that is exactly what happened.
After a first half where Warp was sacked four times, the Ponies didn’t give up a sack in the second half. And with all of the time in the world to throw in the fourth quarter, Warp and the receiving core helped lead the Ponies to three unanswered scores of their own. HHS had the ball three times in the fourth, and put the ball in the end zone all three times through the air. Tristan Manuel started the flood of points on a halfback toss to Nate Rismon from 20 yards out. The next score came on an impressive 80-yard connection between Warp and Thomas Gruber, followed by a 19-yard connection between Warp and Parker Filius for the go ahead score at the 1:59 mark.
“We just wanted to go out there and win,” Filius said. “We were down 21-7 and we knew we just had to put some points on the board.”
And while Warp was confident the Ponies could seal the deal on the comeback, the big pass and catch to Gruber helped out a lot in team confidence, bringing the deficit 21-19 and 5:30 still left to be played.
“There is always that feeling that you are going to be able to come back and win,” Warp said. “We kind of got a scare at the end, but we did that last year against these guys. But that play to Gruber helped out a lot (in the team gaining confidence), there was the catch, but his run was just as impressive.
“There is actually an inside joke with our team because I am not too good at breaking tackles,” Gruber added. “So that was definitely my goal to get through and get into the end zone, so I am glad I did.”
After the necessary adjustments, and getting the offense rolling, it was important to keep the Eagle defense on their heels and out of the HHS backfield. And going back to the no-huddle, hurry-up offense was just what the Ponies needed to help the offense get back to what they are good, putting up points, and putting them up quickly.
“By huddling we gave them an opportunity to get their stunts,” Havre High Head coach Jason Christenson said. “Get lined up, and get their adjustments in. But when we go into our hurry up, it puts a lot of stress on the defense, so by doing that it sparks our kids and gets our energy levels up. That was the idea behind that.
“We all got motivated and just got really pumped and ready to go,” Filius added. “At halftime we made some adjustments in our blocking and I think that really helped a lot. But we had been open the whole game, we just never had enough time to throw it, but getting the time late was huge. It helped us drive down the field in very little time.”
The offense finished with 340 total yards of offense. Warp finished with 292 yards passing, while Filius had 155 receiving yards and Gruber finished with 134, both combining for three scores.
And all of the numbers, the protection by the offensive line, and one great final stand by the Havre defense, added up to a comeback for the ages.