Blue Ponies found success on the gridiron
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Daniel Horton Havre Daily News [email protected]
At the beginning of the season, the Havre High Blue Pony football team was in question. How they were going to perform after losing 14 seniors to graduation was anybody's guess. But after battling through a tough season of highs and lows, the Ponies proved they weren't rebuilding, but truly were reloading. Finishing the season with an overall record of 5-4 and a Central A record of 3-2, the Ponies reached the Class A playoffs and found themselves amongst the state's best yet again. They weren't able to defend last year's Central A conference championship, but reaching the playoffs was still a goal that was proudly accomplished by both the coaches and players. “The playoffs are something that every team strives for, it's always important,” Havre High head coach Kevin Sukut said. “You have to earn your way through the regular season to give yourself a chance at the end of the season.” “We had to overcome a lot of adversity,” Sukut added. “But we hung in there, and I think the thing that I am most proud of is that week in and week out this team gave us a great effort. Every football game we played we were right there in it.” Opening the season against the Whitefish Bulldogs has grown into a great a tradition for Havre and the Ponies. It has proven to be a competitive matchup year after year, and the game is more than just about winning on the line. For both teams, the season opener is also about pride. The BNSF traveling trophy is more than enough incentive to get a team fired up. And after the Ponies were able to defeat the Bulldogs 28-12 for the third straight season, the Ponies returned to Havre where the trophy would stay for at least one more year. The opening win against the Bulldogs revealed a lot about this seasons Ponies. Early on, the Ponies looked as if they lacked in the passing game and would have to depend mainly on the running game. But just as Sukut had said from the very beginning, they were going to need a balance of both to be successful. “It was a progression all the way through the year,” Sukut said, “And it was something we consistently worked on. And in some weeks we did a better job of that than in other weeks. Our last two games against Belgrade and Laurel, we were as balanced as we have ever been. I think we knew that when we got into the tougher games and tougher defenses we were going to have to mix it up, and I think we achieved that.” It was no secret that senior running back Kent Pattison was going to carry the load for the Ponies. And with John Perrodin and sophomore Casey Schaub also splitting carries in the back- field, the running game looked solid. But it didn't take long for quarterback C.J. Evans to transform their game through air and make the Ponies offense a dual threat. Pattison led the Central A with 157 carries for 1,115 yards. He averaged 139.4 yards a game, and 7.1 yards per carry. Perrodin was fourth in the conference with 389 yards on 59 carries, while Schaub seventh with 312 yards on 34 carries. Pattison also scored 13 touchdowns on the season, including two punt returns. The senior star also had three games where he rushed for more than 200 yards. Evans was fourth in the conference, completing 66 passes on 108 attempts. He threw for 691 total yards and averaged 86.4 per game. Overall, the Ponies were No. 1 offensively in the Central A. They totaled 1,869 total yards on the ground, and 831 through the air. They racked 2,700 total yards, and averaged 337.5 per game. “We knew the run game was going to be strong,” Sukut said. “And that's what we relied on in tough times and in tough situations it carried us. But we worked as hard as we could work to get the balance and get more of a passing game.” HHS had an early bye week this season, and didn't play their second game until the third week. And though their was concern that the early break would negatively effect the Ponies groove they had found in game one, they were still able to clinch the 31-0 nonconference win over the hosting Glendive Red Devils. The timing and rhythm of Evans and his receivers was the biggest concern entering the contest. But Evans quickly put all concerns to rest after connecting with four different targets on four touchdown passes. Evans connected with Logan Connor on a 10-yard score, while Layne Waid added a nine-yard score, Perrodin added a 35-yard score and Jake Myers added a five-yard score through the air. A balanced offense was the result of the Ponies dominating win. Though all of the touchdowns came through the air on 232 yards, the Ponies also rushed for 209 yards on 31 carries. After improving to 2-0 on two very impressive wins, the Ponies had a tougher opponent as their home-opener. But after the visiting Sidney Eagles handed the Ponies an 18-14 loss the Ponies hopes of a 3-0 start were shattered. Both the Ponies and Eagles looked to be evenly matched on offense and defense. Both teams housed big and physical lines, and looked to mix the run and pass offensively. And even though the Ponies knew they the Eagles ran and even offense, the Ponies liked their chances if they could stop the Eagles talented running game. But the Ponies found that to be easier said than done, as the Eagles Lane Houchan rushed for 155 yards and two scores. And in such a close game, the Ponies also hurt themselves after they gave up a 40-yard fumble return. With the next week of play presenting the Ponies with a conference opponent, they needed to bounce back. And with a 21-7 win over the Lewistown Golden Eagles, the Ponies did in a big way at Blue Pony Stadium. The Ponies knew a lot about the Eagles before they even came into town. The Eagles like to establish their running game early, but also strive for a solid mixture of pass plays. The Eagles also tend to lean towards play action when they are in passing situations, and aren't afraid to take the big shots down field. Offensively the Eagles were similar to the Ponies as well. But the biggest difference came by the way of defense, as the Ponies were able to hold the Eagles to only one score. The Eagles struck first, scoring late in the first quarter. But the remainder of the game, the Ponies defense went on to force five punts, two turnovers on downs, a Pattison interception in the end zone and a late fourth quarter Pattison fumble recovery. Evans and Pattison led the headlines once again. Pattison rushed for a score from 28 yards out, while Evans connected for two more touchdown passes with Waid and Connor. The following week, the Ponies played one of the biggest games of the regular season. They were on the road to face the Butte Central Maroons, but were doing so without the aid of Evans and one of his favorite targets, Connor. Sophomore backup quarterback Justin Jensen got the call, and got his first varsity start against one of the tougher teams he may see in his career. But stepping up in a big way, Jensen led the Ponies in what turned out to be a tough overtime loss against the highly favored Maroons in Butte. The entire game, the Ponies and Maroons went touchdown for touchdown. With Jensen behind center without a whole lot of varsity experience, the Ponies planned to use a heavy dose of run plays. And overall it was working, as Pattison rushed for two more touchdowns. But the Ponies trailed 21-14 in the fourth quarter. And with 6:25 left to play, Jensen made the biggest throw of his young career with a 47-yard pass to Perrodin for the score and tie. The contest went to overtime where the Ponies would fall short of the win. They dropped to 3-2 and 1-1, but also saw the future of their team coming into his own as a Blue Pony. “You have to have solid play from the quarterback position if you want to be successful," Sukut said. “I was proud of the way Jensen stepped up in that game and he did a good job for us. We had opportunities and just came up short, but that game is a positive.” Following the tough loss to the Maroons, the Ponies found a way to bounce back once again. This time facing the winless Browning Indians, the Ponies kept their playoff hopes alive with a 41-0 win. Evans was back and accounted for three more touchdowns in the air. He connected with Perrodin, Pattison and Jake Myers. Pattison also rushed for two scores in the contest, while Jake Ulgenes also rushed for one. With just two regular season games left, the Ponies remained in must-win situations. Just like the other big games for the Ponies, there happened to be more incentive involved. This time around the Ponies were hosting the Livingston Rangers on senior night. And there was nobody more greateful and excited about the 22-0 win than the 14 seniors playing in their last home game. HHS recorded it's third shutout of the season and its second straight. The Rangers had the ball 11 times, but never scored, turning the ball over two times to interception, two to fumble and three on downs. Perrodin and Danny Roe led the defense with eight tackles apiece. Perrodin also had a pass deflection, while Roe had earned a sack. Corderro Strickland and Evans both recorded interceptions for the Ponies as well. The Pony defense also knew they had to stop the Rangers offensive threat through the air, and they did very well. The Rangers only threw for 87 yards. And the Ponies held the Rangers to less than 150 yards of total offense. The Pony defense was young this season. They had a lot of inexperience, and though they had their ups and downs as well, they still played very well all season long. “I am not taking anything from our defense,” Sukut said, “Because I think that through the course of the season they played very well. But our youth and inexperience did show itself down the stretch. But like I said that's just because of the youth and inexperience we have. But overall I think they did a very good job this year. We may not have been firing on all cylinders offensively, but the defense stepped up and helped hold the course for us until we got things going.” On the season, Perrodin led the Ponies in tackles. He was third in the conference with 99 and averaged over 12 per game. Schaub followed with 80 tackles and averaged 10 per game. Danny Roe also made the list as the eighth best in the Central A. Roe had 66 total tackles and averaged over eight per game as a freshman. Ryan Meyers also played very well defensively, and recorded two interceptions on the year, while Roe recovered two fumbles, and Pattison recovered one. Overall, the Ponies were second defensively behind the Maroons. The Ponies allowed 2,517 total yards overall and only 279 per game. For the last game of the season, the Ponies took to the road to face the Belgrade Panthers. The Ponies were desperately looking for a win. Defeating the Panthers would mean at least a No.2 finish for the Ponies. But after finding themselves in the midst of an offensive shootout, the Ponies also found themselves on the losing end, dropping their final regular season game 48-35. It was an offensive battle, but the biggest difference in winning or losing came on special teams. The Ponies gave up two kick returns to two different players, for scores. If the Ponies had captured the win, they would have hosted a first-round playoff game. But with the loss they nearly missed the playoffs all together. But keeping their state chances alive, Lewistown lost to Butte Central, and the Ponies entered the post season as the No. 3 seed behind Butte Central and Belgrade. With the No. 3 seed, the Ponies had a tough opponent ahead of them, and hit the road to face the No.3 Laurel Locomotives (8-4,4-1) in first round play. Through the first three quarters the game was close. The Ponies held a 13-10 lead at half, but trailed 17-13 through the fourth. But it was Pony turnovers and mishaps that helped the Locomotives run away with the game in the fourth quarter. The Ponies threw two interceptions, including one that was returned 47-yards for a score. And after the Locomotives put up 21 points in the fourth, they took the 38-21 victory and put an end to the Ponies season. At the beginning of the season, the Ponies had high hopes for the post season. They had made and lost in the quarterfinals the last two years and had their sights set even higher this season. And even though the Ponies didn't quite reach all of the goals they had previously set, they still had plenty to look back on and to be proud of. “There is a lot of frustration and disappointment that we didn't go farther. Making the playoffs was an accomplishment, there is no doubt about it, but within Blue Pony football there are higher expectations," Sukut said. "I would never take away for one second the effort that the kids and coaching staff gave. We just want to be competing for conference and state championships, that's the goal every year.” The team and post season awards come out next week.