The final stretch of the regular season can make or break a football team heading into the postseason. The Havre High Blue Ponies are well aware of that, and know just how important this nonconference matchup is in the second to last game of the season.
Tonight, the No. 2 Central A Ponies will take to the road to face the hosting No. 2 Northwestern A Polson Pirates.
A nonconference matchup doesn't do too much for the Ponies in the standings, but a win would be nice, and would be their second consecutive as they sit at 3-3 on the season and more importantly, 2-1 in the conference. But Polson will not be welcoming, as the Pirates too look for a momentum-building win, sitting at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference as well.
And while tonight isn't quite a must win for HHS, it is a needed and much wanted win.
"More than anything," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "This could be a boost for our kids' confidence. To go down there and fight, play competitive, or get a win against a team like Polson would go a long way. If we could get a win, we would love to take that into Browning next week and then into the playoffs."
But the Ponies know it is going to be a tough battle, and after last week's victory, the Ponies also know that if quarterback Dane Warp isn't protected the team as a whole does not run smoothly.
The quarterback position is crucial in the Ponies' game plan, and if Warp is not protected the Ponies will struggle against the Pirates. Last weekend's comeback win over Lewistown was proof of that. The Ponies didn't protect Warp through three quarters and they trailed 21-6. But after finding a way to keep Warp protected I the fourth, the Ponies scored three unanswered touchdowns and came away victorious. Every player that takes the field is important for the Havre game plan, but there is a distinct difference in the Ponies production when Warp has time, compared to when he fighting to get the ball out of his hands against heavy pressure play after play.
"We have talked about that quite a bit to the offensive line," Christenson said. "We have a good quarterback and if we can give him a little bit of time, our wide receivers are talented enough to get open. If he has time he can pick a team apart, and all week we have been stressing to the line to give their maximum effort on every single play, and I think the kids responded to that very well and we have had a good week of practice.
"But each one of them (offensive linemen) understand that they are just as important as the guy next to them," Christenson added. "And they need to step up and work as a unit. They have to be a tight group and all step up and play well."
The Ponies have a solid group of offensive lineman, and they showed they can stop a heavy dose of stunts and blitzes last week in the fourth quarter. And if guys like Ruben Stewart, Dustin Odegard, Tyler Adams, Derek Matosich and Mike Compton can continue to step up, the HHS offense should be able to continue to produce.
Polson has a very tough team overall, and the Pirates will throw a lot of different looks at the Ponies from the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The Pirates are a very stout defensive team, and they do very well keeping teams out of the end zone. And while the offensive line knows they have a tough job ahead of them tonight, the entire HHS defensive unit should know the same. If the Pirates are able to keep the Ponies out of the end zone early on, the HHS defense has to do the same thing or the game could get too far out of hand too fast.
Defensively, the Ponies need to keep the game close, meaning they have to stop standout quarterback Andrew Weltz. Last weekend in a win over Libby, Weltz ran for two scores and passed for a third. Running back Brady Hislop is also a star on the offensive side of the ball for Polson.
"That is their staple," Christenson said. "They are going to hold teams to minimal points and it will be a dog fight. We expect a lot of pressure from their defense and expect to see a lot of stunts coming at Dane. But offensively, they are also a power football team that runs lot of blasts and triple option, and they do that very well. They have a very good quarterback and tailback that execute that offensive very well.
"We are going to see who breaks first," Christenson added. "And hopefully our kids can rise to the occasion. They are hungry, and they want to make that statement to the rest of the state and conference that we are pretty salty defense ourselves. I don't know if adds any more pressure than there is already, but it is just going to be a fun battle and we will see who comes out on top."
Tonight, the Ponies and Pirates will face off in Polson at 7 p.m. Havre closes the regular season, and Central A play at Browning next Friday.
Tonight at 7 p.m.
Radio: 610 KOJM AM