Making the state quarterfinals is never easy in the Class A football ranks. And even with a tough opponent ahead of them this weekend, the Havre Blue Ponies are hoping the quarterfinals don't mean the end of the road for the surging Central A squad.
Last Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium, the Ponies defeated Miles City 21-20 in the opening round. And things won't get any easier now that the Ponies head into the quarterfinals on Saturday in Columbia Falls.
The undefeated Wildcats (8-0) await the Ponies (6-4) for what could be a chilly 12 p.m. kickoff.
It has been several years since the Ponies and Wildcats faced off, but a rivalry should be reborn on Saturday. And with both programs being paced by two very prolific offensive units, led by two very talented quarterbacks, the Ponies are excited to see a team they haven't had the pleasure of crossing paths with in quite some time. '
"The excitement is there to play, but it's more for our goal to keep going, and our goal to keep the hope of playing for a state championship alive," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "But we like to see new teams too. And this is a team that we haven't faced for a very long time, and the kids are excited about facing new blood and facing a high caliber team like Columbia Falls. It will be a good contest, a big test for us, and the kids are excited about the chance to compete."
And since it has been a few seasons since the two teams last went at it, the Ponies made sure to reacquaint themselves as well as possible. And after plenty of preparation over the last week, the Ponies feel they know the ins and outs of the Wildcats very well.
"We broke down about four game films of theirs," Christenson said. "So we know how they are going to attack us on both sides of the ball. We have been working to stop what they do best, so we are just going to go out there and give all we've got. They are well coached and disciplined, and they aren't going to throw anything at us that we haven't seen. They are going to run what has gotten them here, so it is our job to stop them."
Quarterback Jared Trinastich leads the Wildcat's potent offense, and has done a fantastic job this season. In the eight games played this season by Columbia Falls, only two of them were narrow victories, a 20-14 win over Anaconda, and a 30-29 win over Hamilton way back in week two. But on the flipside, the Wildcats have also recorded wins of 43-14 over Lewistown, a 58-0 over Browning, 21-0 over Whitefish, 54-13 over Frenchtown, 44-6 over Libby, and a 42-5 win over Polson.
And a key in what has made Trinastich so successful this season is all of his offensive weapons. Zach Darling has also played extremely well carrying the ball, while Targets like Ty Morgan and Josiah Osborne make the Wildcats tough to stop through the air.
But the Pony defense is also coming off of their best two quarters of football all season long. After shutting out Miles City in the second half last weekend, the HHS defense looked very impressive. The Cowboys' offense is also capable of big time numbers, but was held to 192-yards in the air and 167-yards on the ground against a stiff Havre defense. Defensive back Thomas Gruber grabbed his fifth interception of the season, while safety Trevor Jensen led the team with 10 tackles. Both will be heavily leaned on again on Saturday, as will linebackers Jace Billy, Jordan Schroeder, and Jake Williams. Defensive end Tyrell pierce has also come on strong the second half of the season. The line will also have to have another big day, leaning on the likes of Dustin Odegard, Tyler Adams, and Kyle Duitsman to get the job done.
"They are dangerous with both run and pass," Christenson said. "They have great wide receivers and running backs, and their quarterback is also very good. We just have to be sound and disciplined in or coverages and gap assignments, tackle the ball carrier, and stop their running back. If we can do that, as well as press that quarterback into making a bad decision, then that will really benefit us. They are very well coached on that offense. And that is an emphasis for us, we would like to go down there and put up a strong defensive stand. We know our offense will come through for us, so we just need to hold them to not very many points. It will be a tough game for our defense, but hopefully they can rise to the occasion."
A fast start by the offense will be a must for the Ponies.
The comeback win was impressive last weekend, but would be much harder to accomplish against the Wildcats. That means the Ponies can't afford to fall behind too fast, and too early. The defense will be heavily leaned on to try and stop the Wildcats' offense, but if they can continue to put up strong numbers, the Ponies' high powered offense will have to try and keep pace.
HHS quarterback Dane Warp has the potential for a super performance every time he steps on the field. And his targets in Thomas Gruber, Nate Rismon, Ned Malone and Parker Filius are more than capable to take full advantage on the receiving end. The Ponies are known for having big play, score quick capabilities, and Saturday's game could hinge on just how well the Ponies execute that. Kody Pribyl and Tristan Manuel have also helped pitch in with the running game, but the emergence of Filius as an all around offensive weapon may mean Filius needing to have another big game through the air and on the ground.
"We always expect that from our offense," Christenson said. "We are a quick hit football team and once we get into a rhythm and take care of the football, we can be a dangerous team as well. We need to fire on all cylinders, and the defense usually feeds off of that, so really, both units just have to play very well."
Saturday the Wildcats will welcome in the Blue Ponies for a quarterfinal kickoff at 12 p.m. in Columbia Falls. The winner advances to play either Billings Central or Hamilton in the state semifinals.
Saturday at noon
Radio: 610 KOJM AM