It has been almost two months since the Class A meeting between the Havre High and Miles City football teams in Havre. Being a nonconference matchup, the week two-game didn't put too much on the line for either team, but after lightning ended things with a fizzle just minutes into the second half, both teams will finally find some closure after a 6-6 tie.
Saturday at 12 p.m. the No. 2 Central A Blue Ponies will host the No. 3 Eastern A Cowboys at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre in the first round of the Class A playoffs. The Ponies enter Saturday afternoon's game with an overall record of 4-4 while the Cowboys enter with an overall record of 5-3,, and the winner will move on to the second round next weekend to face powerhouse Columbia Falls in Columbia Falls.
But only one team can earn the win, and only one team will continue their run in to the 2013 Class A postseason.
"A lot of questions went unanswered for Miles City and us," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "Everybody wanted to see a finish to that game, so we just left a lot of things unanswered in that first matchup. We are going to come out and play a full game and finally see who comes out on top, and we know Miles City is going to be ready to go."
In the first meeting the Ponies struck pay dirt on their opening drive to take a 6-0 lead. The Cowboys scored in the second quarter to tie the knot at 6-6. But while both offenses struggled to produce beyond that, both defenses looked very strong, taking full credit for the opposing struggles on offense.
Havre did well to stop the Miles City running game, and that has to be the focus again on Saturday. Evan Haughian is a very talented runner for the Cowboys and had their only score last time out. But quarterback Ben Herzog has the ability to hurt teams with his arm, as well as with his legs, showing a strong running ability. Size is a factor as well, as lineman 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) will look to control the line of scrimmage.
The Cowboys also return standout junior wide receiver Alec Haughian. Houghian was out with an injury early in the season, but is always a factor, lining up as a wide out, running back, and at times, quarterback.
If the Ponies can build off of the first half they played eight weeks ago, as well as brace for a much improved Cowboy team, they should be able to be in the hunt for a coveted playoff win. Havre's last playoff victory came in November of 2010 when the Blue Ponies beat Hamilton in the Class A quarterfinals. But Christenson also knows they have to play much better than last time they saw Miles City, and clean up mistakes and penalties, something they have strived to do all season long.
"We still had a lot of mistakes in that first half," Christenson said. "And we just need to play sound football. They have (Alec Haughian) back who didn't play against the first time, and he adds a lot to their offense and defense. We just need to be patient, be sound, be disciplined, and play our assignments. If we can do that we will give them a fight.
"But it is Miles City and everybody knows they love to run the football," Christenson added. "We are showing that we are kind of struggling with that this year, so we expect to see a healthy dose of run plays. But again, it is just going to come down to our front seven. If they step up and play hard and play disciplined, we will make it a battle."
And it will be the same group of HHS defenders needing to carry the load. Thomas Gruber and Trevor Jensen are the top defensive backs for the Ponies, but Tyrell Pierce needs a big game from the defensive end position, while Tyler Adams, Kyle Duitsman and Dustin Odegard need to have an impact on the defensive line. Linebackers Jace Billy, Jake Williams, and Jordan Schroeder will also need to play smart and fast, reading their keys and filling fast to stop the run.
On offense, the Ponies have strived to be balanced all season long, but the running game hasn't quite caught up yet. The postseason would be the perfect time for Kody Pribyl and Tristan Manuel to have huge games on the ground, but everybody knows the Ponies bread and butter comes through the air.
Sophomore quarterback Dane Warp finished the season as the top passer in the Central A this season with more than 2,300 passing yards. And when he is protected, he has several big-play receivers to throw to, making the HHS offense difficult to keep quiet. But if the Miles City pressure gets to Warp, rushing his throws or making him tuck the ball and take off, the Pony offense will struggle. If Warp can't throw the ball then one of the top receiving groups in the Class A ranks won't be a factor.
Gruber caught 38 passes for 733 yards to lead the Central A, while Nate Rismon was second in the conference with 34 catches for 567 yards. Parker Filius didn't start getting varsity time until week five, but still finished third in the conference with 31 catches for 547 yards this season.
The offensive line, including players like Odegard, Ruben Stewart, Adams and Derek Matosich will be key in keeping Warp safe, and keeping the offensive production at high level.
"I think we have improved on the offensive line this year," Christenson said "But we also added more speed to our offense by bringing in Parker Filius He is doing a phenomenal job for us and he is always a threat. I think that will affect how they attack us with their defense, I know they will bring a lot of pressure, but if we can take care of that, give Dane time, then we will be to compete and play well."
Both teams have undoubtedly improved since meeting in week two of the regular season, and both will be looking to avenge a 6-6 tie with a win. A win keeps the dream of a state championship alive, while a loss ends a season.
The Ponies and Cowboys kickoff at 12 p.m. on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium with a berth in the Class A quarterfinals on the line.
Jace Billy, left, and the Havre Blue Ponies play Miles City for the second time this season, Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
Saturday at 12 p.m.
Blue Pony Stadium
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