Blue Ponies orchestrate a last-minute win over Lewistown on senior night in Havre
Sometimes one game can define a football team’s season. And once the 2013 season comes to an end, the Havre High football team may very well be able to look back and say that game was the Blue Ponies’ home finale.
Friday night the Central A Blue Ponies hosted the conference rival Lewistown Golden Eagles at Blue Pony stadium in Havre. And in what can best be described as a nail biter, the Ponies found a way to come back from a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit and earn a very dramatic win. The Ponies defeated the Eagles 25-21 on senior night, improving to 3-3 on the season and a very important 2-1 in the conference standings. The Eagles were knocking on the door, but remain winless on the season at 0-5.
“I think that took five years off my life,” A relieved head coach Jason Christenson said after the game. “We are happy to get out of here with a win.”
Trailing 21-7 through the first three quarters, the Ponies scored three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come out with the win. And the play that sparked the Havre High offense was somewhat lucky, coming on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Senior halfback Tristen Manuel converted a halfback toss to wide receiver Nate Rismon. Rismon slipped in the end zone on the play, but made a circus catch as he laid flat on his stomach in the turf. The 20-yard touchdown pass helped the Ponies bring the Eagles’ lead to 21-13, as well as revive the Blue Pony offense, an offense that didn’t show any signs of life since scoring on a two-yard TD pass from Dane Warp to Thomas Gruber on the opening drive of the game.
But sometimes a little luck is exactly what a team in comeback mode needs. And the Ponies got it Friday night.
“That put some life into us again,” Christenson said. “Sometimes the ball has to bounce our way, and it did for us on that play. It sparked us and we just got going. The defense played very well too, and the offense was able to do enough for the win.”
After the miraculous play by Manuel and Rismon, the offense continued to find a way to protect Warp, something they couldn’t do in the first half. And after that devastating first half, the Ponies were fortunate to get into the lockerroom with a 7-6 lead.
The Ponies were playing flat, while the Eagles were hungry for a win, and could have easily been up on the Ponies by two touchdowns at the break. In the second quarter the Eagles had two scores taken off the board due to penalties. At the 5:41 mark the Eagles scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass, but the score was void on a holding call. The Eagles punted three plays later. Then with just three seconds left in the half the Eagles scored on a 50-yard pass, but that too was taken off the board, this time on an ineligible receiver down field penalty. Even with the voided scores, the Eagles had all the momentum as they looked for the upset win on the road.
But the Ponies were playing at a different level, pace, and tempo after the Rismon score to start the final frame, and that resulted in two more scores.
Lewistown missed a field goal at the six-minute mark, and the Ponies fired right back with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession. Taking over on their own 20, the Ponies struck when Warp found Gruber streaking down the middle of the field, and after breaking two tackles Gruber hit pay dirt to cut the deficit to 21-19 after a failed two-point conversion. The Eagles were forced to punt following the score, and the Ponies took over again on their own 28 with just 2:48 left to play and trailing by two. This time Warp connected on three of four pass attempts on the drive, including a bullet to freshman Parker Filius for the game-winning score with just under two minutes left.
“We made some adjustments at halftime with our blocking scheme,” Christenson said. “And the kids went out and executed it. I think we really protected Dane a lot better in that second half, and we really just simplified our blocking scheme. We stuck to one philosophy with it, and it was something all the kids felt comfortable with. They were able to come out and execute, and the receivers and Dane showed a lot of composure and grit and helped us pull out a win.
“It started on the line,” Gruber added. “We just had to figure out who we were missing and how they were getting through. Then we just needed to figure out who we could get the ball to and where the holes in the coverage were. We just had to keep studying the defense and make those adjustments.”
Warp was especially happy with the newfound coverage, as he was hit repeatedly and sacked four times in the first half. The offense didn’t give up a single sack in the second half, and Warp went two quarters almost untouched. And given time, Warp knew his Ponies had a chance to win.
“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 pass to Gruber really helped out a lot (in the team gaining confidence), there was the catch, but his run was just as impressive. This finish was a huge confidence booster being able to come back, and that will help us down the road.”
The offense finished with 340 total yards, including a 12-20-292-yard performance by Warp throwing the ball. Filius led the receivers with six catches for 155 yards including a key catch on the final drive, while Gruber caught four passes for another 134. Rismon had one catch for 20 yards as well. And rushing the ball, Kody Pribyl carried the load with six rushes for just 32 yards.
But even after taking the lead with less than two minutes in regulation, the Ponies were not in the clear.
Defensively, the Ponies looked very good, even with giving up 21 points. Nearly all night long HHS had stuffed the Eagles’ run game. Lewistown’s three rushing scores from Dylan Stenseth and James Derheim came from short distances, while the Pony defense was getting stuck in tough yardage situations all night after poor special teams play and big Lewistown returns.
But in what would be the final drive of the game, the Ponies had to prove they could also stop the passing attack.
Starting on their own 31, the Eagles put together an eight-play drive that led them to a first-and-10 situation on the Ponies’ 33. Lewistown had an incomplete pass in the end zone, and on the ninth play of the drive, the Ponies ended the threat. After missing three games with an illness, senior corner Ned Malone made the biggest playoff his career, a game-ending interception at the goal line to finalize the comeback victory.
“It feels great,” Malone said. “Especially since this was senior night, this is how I wanted to finish. The coaches just told us to be on our toes, stay deep and not let anything behind us, and just stay deep. And I thought they would come back at me. But I was reading the quarterback the whole way and once he threw it up I knew I could pick it, so I just went after it, jumped up, and got it. That was by far the biggest play of my career.”
“That was huge,” Christenson added. “Ned is always right there, he is always around the football, and I am just so happy for him that he was able to get that interception. And I thought the defense played well. Lewistown came out and they have two giant backs that run the ball very well. We changed our front up a bit and that allowed our linebackers to free flow and move around, and I thought that caught them off guard a bit.”
The Lewistown offense finished with 204 yards on the ground and 101 yards through the air. Pribyl led HHS’s defensive efforts with 13 tackles, while Kyle Duitsman finished 10 tackles and a sack. Trevor Jensen and Jake Williams had nine tackles each, while Williams also caused a fumble and Jensen had an interception. Gruber finished with seven tackles and Malone finished with four tackles to go along with his game saving interception.
It was a thrilling way for Havre to end its regular season in Blue Pony Stadium, and a great way to honor the Pony seniors. But there’s still work to be done. While Havre has clinched a playoff berth, the Ponies still need to lock up a home game, and with help, they could still share the Central A title.
However, HHS will take a break from conference play this weekend, traveling to face Northwest A power Polson on Friday night.
Ponies 25, Lewistown 21
Lewistown 6 0 15 0 -- 21
Havre 7 0 0 19 -- 25
HAV – Thomas Grubber 2 pass from Dane Warp (Gunner Aageson kick)
LEW – Dylan Stenseth 1 run (kick failed)
LEW– Stenseth 9 run (James Derheim run)
LEW – Derheim 1 run (Stenseth kick)
HAV – Nate Rismon 20 pass from Tristan Manuel (kick failed)
Havre High's Parker Filius, left, hauls in a long pass during the first quarter of Friday night's game at Blue Pony Stadium. Filius also caught the game-winning TD pass from Dane Warp in Havre's 25-21 win over Lewistown.
HAV – Grubber 80 pass from Warp (run failed)
HAV – Parker Filius 19 pass from Warp (kick failed)
Havre Individual Statistics
Passing – Dane Warp 12-20-292, Tristan Manuel 1-20
Receiving – Thomas Gruber 4-134, Parker Filius 6-155, Nate Rismon 1-20
Rushing – Kody Pribyl 6-32.