From the Fringe...
There’s always highs and lows throughout the course of a football game. Ebbs and flows are to be expected. But football fans, myself included, were treated to both ends of the extreme during about seven hours of emotionally charged, and emotionally draining football action Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
The roller coaster ride started at roughly 12 p.m. when the Havre Blue Ponies and Miles City Cowboys took the field for a Class A playoff confrontation, and it didn’t end until around 9:30 p.m. when Herman Tapley’s hail mary pass fell into the arms of Montana Tech wide receiver Zack Kinney, stunning the hearty souls who came to watch the Montana State University-Northern Lights take on the Orediggers in a rare college football night game in Havre.
Now, having been a fan of the game as long as I have, and having covered about every kind of football you can imagine over the last 10-plus years, I expect to see some emotional things each and every weekend during a football season. But I must admit, I didn’t think I’d see all that I saw in two spectacular football games on Saturday.
Simply put, Saturday was about as emotional as it can get on the football field, good and bad.
Starting at around 1 p.m., the mood inside Blue Pony Stadium was turning somber. The clouds were rolling in, light rain had started to fall and the breeze we’ve come to expect in early November had picked up.
But it wasn’t the weather that had spirits low. No, it was the fact that Miles City had taken a 21-7 lead over the Blue Ponies into halftime. It was the fact that Havre’s chances of advancing in the playoffs were starting to darken like the skies above.
However, this is football and things can change just that fast. By the time the fourth quarter had rolled around, I noticed the sun had began peaking out of the clouds and the Blue Ponies were starting to shine again. Dane Warp’s pass to Tristan Manuel with eight minutes left in the contest lifted Havre to a one-point lead, and now the Pony defense just needed to keep doing what it had done all half, and that was stop the Cowboys.
But it wasn’t that easy. Miles City, normally a running team, had had success with quarterback Ben Herzog throwing to a pair of speedy and tall wide receivers all day, and when Herzog limped back onto the field for a 4th-down and 15 play with under a minute to go, deep in Havre territory, the tension again rose to new heights inside the old stadium. Herzog completed the pass and kept the Cowboys’ hopes of a last-second win alive.
However, on the other side, the Blue Ponies had hopes of making one last defensive stand, and to a thrilled and chilled Havre crowd, they did just that. The Ponies stopped Herzog on a scramble play that started with just 11 ticks left in the game, and by the time he got off the turf, there just wasn’t enough left on the clock for the Cowboys to line up and run one more play.
At precisely 2:38 p.m., the mood inside Blue Pony Stadium couldn’t have been better. The Ponies finally got the Miles City monkey off their back. Their defense had pitched a dramatic second-half shutout, and their season marched on.
It was pure jubilation at Blue Pony Stadium, and for much of the night, it would last.
At 6:30 p.m., the crowd was back inside the stadium, and emotions were again running high as Northern was set to face Tech in a clash of two teams desperate for a win. A stirring National Anthem, accompanied by a large American Flag on Military Appreciation Night at Northern had everyone smiling and everyone fired up.
And to the Lights credit, the mood stayed up for much of a game which saw Northern’s offense race up and down the field on a dejected and overwhelmed Montana Tech defense.
By 7:52 p.m. the Lights were in the lockerroom with a 21-10 halftime lead and Saturday, while long, was turning out to be one of those magical days at Blue Pony Stadium, the kind so many Havre fans have been accustomed too.
Again though, this is football, and emotions and fortunes can change just that quickly.
And by 9:13 p.m., the emotions were certainly turning in the wrong direction for the Lights, who had played so hard and so well for so much of the night. Tapley had just thrown a touchdown pass to make the score 31-26, and little did anyone know at the time, including me, just how hard the last two minutes of the game would be.
Just over a minute after Tech had cut the lead to five, the Diggers’ had the ball back, and they quickly started marching down the field. Northern’s defense was being emotionally spurred on by a loud and proud MSU-N crowd, but the time, time seemed to be standing still, and time seemed to be the enemy of the Lights, or the friend of the Orediggers. I still can’t tell which.
And then came the biggest and fastest gamut of emotions all day. The Northern crowd erupted in jubilation as a Tapley pass with just 11 seconds left fell incomplete in the endzone. The clock said there was but one second left in the game, and all Northern had to do was withstand one last desperation heave and the Lights would have their win, and a long day at Blue Pony Stadium would end with the highest of highs.
But in football, in sports and even in life, one second is sometimes all that’s needed to ruin a great day. One second is all that’s needed to break someone’s heart, or in the case of Saturday night, a proud football team and its fans’ hearts collectively.
And on an emotional day, that one second was all it took. Tapley completed an improbable pass to Kinney, lifting Tech to a stunning 32-31 win, and leaving Blue Pony Stadium in deafening silence. In fact, in the seconds after the completed hail mary, it sounded as if there was no one but me left in the stadium.
In just one second, a day that started out so great ended in heartbreak. In just one second, the Lights had a victory turned into a crushing defeat. In just one second, everybody in Blue Pony Stadium went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, with the exception of Tech’s players, coaches and fans that is.
And in that one second, I learned all over again just how emotional the game of football is. In that one second, I was again reminded just how cruel the game of football can be.
And in a day filled with emotions at Blue Pony Stadium, I once again saw the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all rolled into one.
I walked out of Blue Pony Stadium twice on Saturday. The first time, the sun was still out and everyone was feeling good. But, at 9:49 p.m., when I left the stadium for a second time, it was dark and cold and that’s pretty much how I felt emotionally. And if I felt that way, I won't even pretend to know how the Lights felt walking out of that same stadium after playing their hearts out for four quarters.
But that’s football. And that’s life. It’s hard to accept, but that’s how it goes sometimes, and on Saturday, anyone who saw both games saw exactly that…a day, and night of raw emotion, of ups and downs and of highs and lows. It’s a day, and night, for good reasons and for not so good reasons, none of us will soon forget.