Defensively, the Havre High football team has been striving for statement game all season long. The Blue Ponies have been inconsistent from week to week, but they finally put their stamp on a win that the defense could be proud of.
After a rocky first two quarters, the Pony defense carried the team to a narrow 21-20 playoff win over Miles City on Saturday. The win over the Eastern A Cowboys came at Blue Pony Stadium in the first round of the Class A state football playoffs, but it didn't come until the HHS defense shut out the Cowboys in the final two quarters of play.
Safety Trevor Jensen helped lead the defense with 10 tackles, while Tyrell Pierce added seven tackles, and Jace Billy added six and a sack. Tyler Adams and Kyle Duitsman both had five tackles and shared a sack, while Dustin Odegard had five more tackles and a sack of his own as well. Defensive back Thomas Gruber also had five tackles, but also came up with a key interception.
It was an all-around dominant showing by Havre High, as the meeting was a rematch from week two in the regular season, when the non-conference game resulted in a 6-6 tie after constant lightning strikes near the field.
After Saturday's results the Ponies can claim bragging rights, but also ended a decade-long losing streak to Miles City. But the game wasn't settled until the final moments of regulation. Miles City had no timeouts remaining, and simply ran out of time, unable to spike the ball when quarterback Ben Herzog scrambled to the Ponies 10-yard line with just seconds remaining.
The Cowboys didn't run another play, and when the horn sounded the HHS defense ran off the field, celebrating with the rest of the HHS squad.
The Ponies took the lead at 8:17 and knew all they had to do was keep the Cowboys out of the end zone. Miles City took over two minutes off the clock before punting the ball back to the Ponies, but Havre did not convert another first down and had to contemplate either punting or going for the first down at the 4:07 mark. The Ponies needed just one-yard on fourth down, but chose to lean on the defense after failed conversion earlier in the game. The decision nearly backfired as the punt was tipped and put the Cowboys on their own 48-yard line. But with no timeouts, the defense did what they did for the entire second half, they gave up some yards, but held strong in the red zone.
"Coach Christenson believed in us as a defense to make that stop," Senior linebacker Jake Williams said. "Deep down he might of wanted to go for it, but I think he knew we were playing well and we could make the stop and get the win."
Miles City ran over a dozen plays on the final drive, but could not punch their ticket into the end zone or into the second round of the playoffs.
But the great stand to end the game came after two quarters worth of great stands by the Pony defense. The Cowboys scored 20 points in the opening two quarters, but were forced to punt five times in the second half, as well as turned the ball over on downs on one other drive.
"We just looked at some things to work on from the first half," Williams said. "Then came out and executed what we needed to execute in the second half. But once our defense made some stops early, we got momentum and just kept rolling and rolling."
Senior defensive back Thomas Gruber had the daunting task of lining up across from standout wide receiver Alec Haughian, and Haughian even got the best of Gruber early in the game with a 25 receiving score from Ben Herzog. But Gruber was up to the challenge, and did not allow another score from Haughian.
"I didn't want him to get down on himself," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "But he is a mature senior receiver. He went through some adversity, but battled through it and made some big plays when we needed him."
Gruber had an interception near the end of the first half, and played very well through the second as he finished near the top of the squad in tackles to go right along with his fifth interception of the season.
If the defense can build from Saturday's win, the Ponies will like their chances to get past next weekend's opponent even more. And facing Columbia Falls on the road wouldn't be an easy task for any team this season, but the Ponies will do exactly that on Saturday at noon in the second round matchup.