Havre High has faced some very tough teams this season, but none as tough as the one that confidently awaits them in the semifinals of the Class A state football playoffs.
Saturday the Central A Blue Pony football team will travel to Dillon to take on the Beavers, the No. 1 Class A team in the state. The Ponies enter the game riding a six game winning streak and a 7-3 record. But the Beavers on the other hand haven't lost a game this season and will enter the matchup 9-0.
"The kids are fired up," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "And they realize they are one game away of what every high school football player dreams of, playing for a high school championship. They have that in the back of their minds and they are excited about playing the No. 1 team in the state. The competition doesn't get any better than this, and the kids really want to go out and prove how good of a team they really are.
"We have to bring our A-plus game, our A plus plus game," Christenson added. "We will need to play nearly flawless football and we are up to that task to be able to do that. It is up to the kids at this point and it is up to them to go out and think 'I may not be the biggest guy out there, but I am the toughest guy out there and have the biggest heart' and hopefully that attitude and mentality carries over with some success."
Dillon hasn't earned a flawless record by accident; they have dominated the competition this year. The Beaver offense is averaging 37.6 points per game this season and has scored as much as 54 points twice this season as well. And the Beavers' defense, that is a separate animal entirely, as they have earned four shutouts and are allowing an average of a little less than six points per game.
HHS has had a strong week of practice leading up to game time, but they also have to play their best football of the season if they hope to compete and come away with a win.
On offense, the Ponies will look to produce against a very stout defense. The Ponies are averaging 37.3 points per game, but the Beavers haven't allowed more than 17 points in any one game. The second highest allowed was just 13 points.
Mixing the run and passing games have worked out well for the Ponies thus far, and that is the game plan again on Saturday. Now isn't the time to change what has gotten the team to this point, so the Ponies will also look to use their hi octane, no huddle offense to their advantage.
Quarterback Justin Jensen will see plenty of pressure from top talent like Zeke Koslosky, the Beavers' 6-1, 230 pound linebacker. He will need to get rid of the ball quickly and cleanly in the passing game, while the Beavers' defensive backs, Kyle Cox, Austin Williams, Ben Folsom and Dilan Starkel will look to advance any Blue Pony mistake through the air. Sharp routes by wide receivers Zach Plum, Braydon Grimson and Ryan Brandt in the slot will be key, as will Brandon Smith and Thurman Holdsclaw getting open from the tight end position.
In the running game, the Ponies' offensive line will play their most important game of the season. The Beavers' defensive line is strong and fast, and will be looking to clog up any holes as soon as they open. Brandt and Casey Schaub will have to have an extra pep in their step as they look to break through any first contact and grab any extra yards they can muster.
"We have to take what they give us," Christenson said. "We know we may not have a lot or any big plays, so we just have to take what that defense gives us. On the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Ponies will have their hands full from the opening whistle."
The Beavers are led by quarterback J.T. Linder, a three-year starter who can punish teams with his legs and arm. Linder is joined in the backfield by two running backs who have split carries all season long, Cox (5-10, 165) and Starkel (509, 165).
Wes Knox, a 6-4 senior, Carver, a 5-10 junior and Folsom, a 6-2 senior will look to strike the Ponies through the air.
The Ponies find themselves up against an offense that runs and passes the ball with great success. The Beavers are an aggressive offense, and it is going to take a great defensive performance to limit their production. The HHS linebackers will play a key role in the Ponies defensive schemes. Schaub, Kameron Pribyl and Eli Hinebauch will be looked upon to step up and limit the Beavers' running success. They have to be disciplined in their jobs and have to step up and fill at the line hard and fast.
"They have to have a huge, huge game and play very disciplined and physical football," Christenson said. "We have to try and take away their best plays and what they predominantly like to do. We are going to attack them and keep that mentality, and we for sure aren't going to back down from this team. We want to be the aggressor and try to disrupt their quarterback as much as we can. (Linder) is a magnificent athlete and he can hurt us with his arm and feet. The kids just have to play physical football and wrap up and make tackles and not give up to many big plays."
No matter if it is on offense, defense or special teams, Havre High has to have their best game of the season against the top Class A team in the state. Dillon is heavily favored, but the Ponies know their capabilities and they believe in what they are doing and have accomplished this far into the season. HHS has heavily prepared for the this matchup, and are heading into Saturday knowing exactly what they have to do.
"We have just been reassuring the kids that if they play as hard as they have been," Christenson said. "Not let the mystique of Dillon being the No. 1 team get to them, play tough hardnosed football, play smart and assignment football, then we will be alright. Whether anybody else thinks we have a chance, we have to believe we have a chance and we have to believe we are going to win this game and the kids have to have confidence in their ability."
The winner of Saturday's game will advance to the Class A state championship against either Billings Central or Miles City. If the Ponies win, the game will be played at Blue Pony Stadium.
The Ponies are on the road to take on the Beavers in Dillon on Saturday at 1 p.m. in semifinal action.
Havre at Dillon
Saturday, 1 p.m.
at Vigilante Field
Radio: 610 A.M. KOJM
Follow on twitter at
Blue Pony running back Casey Schaub (left) runs away from a Hamilton defender during a Class A quarterfinal playoff game last Saturday in Havre.