Playoffs bring special feeling
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It snowed in Havre the other day. The temperature is dropping, the wind is starting to get really bitter at night and there is scarcely a leaf on a tree. Winter on the Hi-Line looms. It will be November when the Havre Blue Ponies take to the field at Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday. And it will be cold.
Ahh, cold weather and Montana High School playoff football.
For me it just doesn't get much better than that. It is only Wednesday and I am already excited for Saturday's matchup with the Bigfork Vikings. I know I have to remain impartial, but I am just excited that playoff football has returned to Havre.
The playoffs are a whole new season. Every team that qualifies starts out with a clean slate. It doesn't matter what some poll says, or what a newspaper writer predicts. The state championship is going to be decided right where it should be on the football field. The playoffs mean that no matter what happened during the regular season, the select few teams that qualify still have a shot at capturing a state title. Records and previous defeats are thrown out the window. It doesn't matter that Havre lost to Sidney, or that Miles City beat Sidney. If those two teams should meet they'll figure it out on the field.
The playoffs also mean that intensity is higher. Coaches work a little harder and a little longer preparing for each game. Players feel more pressure which usually results in standout performances. The games are faster, the hitting is more severe.
Every down, every minute, every single yard is crucial. To steal a line from Al Pacino in the movie "Any Given Sunday" "football, like life, is a game of inches." It may sound cliche and corny, but it doesn't make it any less true. The difference between winning and losing is really that close. Every play can potentially decide the outcome of the game. Losing isn't an option because if you lose there is no tomorrow or next week. You're done.
The intensity is enhanced by the crowd. The fans will be noisier and more enthusiastic because they, too, know that the end is just a touchdown away.
For seniors it is one last chance at glory on the high school gridiron. Unfortunately, for most high school football players it is their last chance ever. Only a select few will get to continue to play in college. It's one last time for these young men to put on the helmets and shoulder pads.
I still remember Havre's loss to Hamilton in the state championship game several years ago. I still remember the year after that, when the Ponies lost a heartbreaking shootout with Sidney at a snowy but crowded Blue Pony Stadium. It was the last game for former Havre stars like Matt Kegel and Jarrod Wirt. I bet if you asked them today they still have fond memories of those days, despite the outcomes.
It is time for the Ponies to write a new chapter in their playoff history. I don't know if it will be cold, snowing or raining on Saturday. It could be warm and sunny, but I hope not. Regardless of the weather, it is playoff football. This group of Blue Ponies will set out to make its own playoff memories.
It has been a rollercoaster season for this talented group of Havre kids. Their determination, and that of head coach Troy Purcell and his staff, has been rewarded because they are still playing. They are one of eight teams that has a chance to win a state championship. They are completely in control of their own destiny.
Hopefully, Blue Pony Stadium will be filled beyond capacity on Saturday. Be Blue and White, be loud and be proud because the Havre Blue Ponies are part of something very special now. They are in the playoffs.