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HHS Football Preview 2012: Blue Ponies are young, but talented


Sometimes a team just doesn't know what a new season has in store until the very first kickoff. That is the case for the defending Central A divisional champion Havre High Blue Pony football team.

Coming off of their best season in nearly a decade, the Ponies finished last season with a record of 7-4. At one point they put together a six game winning streak, and even advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in seven years

Havre High quarterback Dane Warp (left) looks to pass during last Saturday's Blue/White Game at Blue Pony Stadium. The Ponies open their season Saturday in Whitefish.

. But as good as the Ponies were, unfortunately they suffered a 56-14 loss to Dillon in the state semis, ending the Ponies historic run.

HHS was able to find a lot of success behind the strength and experience of 16 seniors, 12 of which that were starters. But with all of those bodies now missing, including key losses such as Justin Jensen (quarterback), Ryan Brandt (running back), Casey Schaub (running back), Joey DeVries (center), Evan Flathers (offensive line), Brandon Smith (defensive end/tight end), Eli Hinebauch (linebacker) and Brayden Grimson (wide receiver), the Ponies have a lot of rearranging, rebuilding and preparation to do before the start of the 2012 season.

"We lost a lot of great players and quality athletes," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "We lost players like Casey Schaub, Ryan Brandt and our quarterback Justin Jensen. And losing somebody like Justin Jensen is especially hard because we lost his leadership and knowledge of the offense. But I could list off a lot of great kids we lost, so we are just looking to fill those holes."

HHS will hopefully fill those holes before the start of the regular season, kicking off in Whitefish on Saturday. And while Whitefish will be an early test for the Ponies, HHS will be tested all season long with schedule filled with top talent. On the road, the Ponies will run into Miles City, Lewistown and Livingston. And at the Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, the Ponies will host Butte Central, Sideny, Belgrade, Libby and Browning, all in the hopes of making the playoffs that begin on October 27.

But the road to the post season wont be an easy on, as the Ponies almost lost their entire offensive line, one of the main reasons the Ponies found so much success on the ground last season.

This year, with a much more young and inexperienced team, the Ponies are looking to stick to the basics. They have talent in several positions, but lack numbers with extensive varsity experience. Going from 16 seniors, the Ponies now have four, including Thurman Holdsclaw, the only All-State returner. Zach Plum (receiver), Jake Lohman (lineman) and Chet Shrauger also return as the only seniors.

Holdsclaw is undeniable one of the top athletes on the roster this season, if not the top athlete. He was a tight end/receiver and defensive end last year, but will play a much, much bigger role in his final season. Holdsclaw will be a utility type player, lining up in several different offensive positions, and playing wherever makes him the biggest weapon.

HHS brings in just a small group of sophomores and juniors to join the seniors, but brought in almost 30 freshmen this year. They will inexperienced early on, but will have to learn fast if they hope to stay competitive.

"We are going to have to do some maturing real quick," Christenson said.

Other returners include Thomas Gruber (receiver/defensive back), Tristan Manuel (running back), Tyler Adams (defensive end), Derek Matosich (line), and Dustin Odegard (line). And the rest of the roster includes Trevor Harwood, Ned Malone, Corissa White, Tyrell Pierce, Kendall Swan, Quintin Kallenberger, Keefer Sands, Brock Ross, Dylan Carpenter, Logan Pleninger, Brian Smith, TC Flesche, Ryne Antley, Kody Pribyl, Jordan Schroeder, Gunnar Aageson, Jake Williams, Josh Emge, Jace Billy, Tanner Hentschel, Shawn Raty, Lucas Shaw, Cole Keller, Nic Mader, Travis Adams, Josiah Stocker, Patrick Leeds, JT Belcourt, Brandon bergren, Chase Smith, Ruben Stewart, Rocky Kuhr, Kage Hansen, Mike Compton, Mason Buck, Thomas Keith, John Chinadle, Daniel Almas, Dasan Torgerson, Kyle Gooch, Ty Pyette, Charlie Christianson, Nate Rismon, Alex Cole and Zach Brower.

Dane Warp is an incoming freshman, but better grow up fast and get comfortable on the field. With Jensen now gone, the quarterback job belongs to Warp, and the Ponies know they have to simplify some things to accommodate Warp, as well as any other freshman that finds varsity minutes.

"We are getting back to basics," Christenson said. "But with a freshman starting at quarterback, we have to keep it simple for him, and just keep things fundamentally sound. We need to execute what we do well perfectly, and just run with that philosophy. It is going to be a character-building year. There are going to be ups and downs, but there is going to be a lot of learning. Hopefully we learn from the wins and losses and this year builds a lot of character and fight, so that we can build from there."

The Blue Ponies are the defending conference champions, but they have their work cut out for them. They looked to have a solid grasp on the offense and defense this season, showing that off in the Blue/White scrimmage last week, but Livingston, Lewistown and Browning always test HHS. But getting early attention because of their size and numbers, the Belgrade Panthers look to be the favorite to try and knock of the Blue Ponies this year.

But even with their youth, the Ponies aren't giving up the crown without a fight.

"Don't rule us out," Christenson said. "We are young but have a lot of fight. The kids are playing enthusiastically, and these kids believe in themselves."

The Ponies will open the season on Saturday in Whitefish in nonconference play starting at 2 p.m.


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