There are always big and important moments in a football season, but there just doesn't seem to be anything quite like the opening game of the season.
The Havre High Blue Ponies have made it through summer camps, two a day practices, and even a scrimmages against themselves. But with all of that now behind them, the Central A Ponies are now ready, and eager to kick off a new year with the start of the 2012 season.
This year the Ponies will open up on the road with a Saturday game. And once again, the BNSF traveling trophy will be on the line as the Whitefish Bulldogs host the Ponies at 2 p.m. Last season the Ponies defeated the Bulldogs 54-
Havre High's Thurman Holdsclaw (top) leaps over a Whitefish defender during a 2011 Class A football game in Havre. The Blue Ponies travel to Whitefish to open their season on Saturday afternoon. It's the first time HHS has faced the Bulldogs on the road in three years.
25 to keep the trophy for the fifth straight year. And with the win, the Ponies have kept the trophy eight out of the last 11 years.
"The kids are tired of hitting each other and are ready to face I kid in a different colored jersey," Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. "We are ready to start playing football and getting those wins. Wins on the practice field aren't very exciting, and the kids are ready to compete.
"And anytime there is a little extra something to play for," Christenson added. "It makes things a little more exciting. It's a tradition and a rivalry, and it makes the win mean a little more, and we would love to keep the trophy here another year."
Last year the Ponies steamrolled the Bulldogs, but this year both teams are in a similar boat, and could be more evenly matched.
The Bulldogs lost a lot of senior talent from last year's roster. One important loss was quarterback Connor Donahue, one of the key bright spots for the Bulldogs a year ago. Whitefish loved to throw the ball last season, but there is also rumor that the Bulldogs are going to start a freshman quarterback this season, maybe altering their game plan a bit.
"We know that we are going to face a team that is going to come out and play hard," Christenson said. "Physical football. That is what we are preparing for, and we are just going to execute our own game plans. They definitely went through the air more last year, but we don't know exactly what to expect. And if they do start a freshman quarterback, we expect them to take some pressure off of him by running the ball."
HHS is also starting a freshman quarterback in Dane Warp. And while the Blue Pony offense will still strive to be balanced, the goal is to be simple as well, putting him in good situations to use his offensive weapons. Warp has several different security blankets he can look too, including Zack Plum (wide receiver), Thomas Gruber (wide receiver), Ned Malone (wide receiver) and Tristan Manuel (full back). But Warp will also have playmaker Thurman Holdsclaw at his disposal, lining up in several different offensive positions this season, including as a receiver and in the backfield as running back.
"We have built an offensive game plan tailored towards (Warp)," Christenson said. "And we are going to put him the best possible position to succeed, and try to limit those plays he may not be as successful running. We have kept it simple, but still have a variety of run and pass plays."
Defense may be the strength of the Ponies this year.
HHS is still young at many defensive positions, but they also still have a lot of talent. It will be a fresh group of linebackers this season, but their true strength is upfront with Holdsclaw (defensive end), Tyler Adams (defensive end) and Dustin Odegard (defensive line). But they also have a safety net down field with Plum (corner), Gruber (corner), Malone (safety) and Chet Shrauger (safety). The defense will be vital thiss weekend and beyond, and will play a major role if they can pressure the opposing quarterback on a consistent basis.
The offense will struggle to be as explosive as last season, but the defense can keep the Ponies in games if they step up and keep improving.
"We want to put some pressure on the quarterbacks and take away from their running game," Christenson said. "That also takes the pressure off of the linebackers and defensive backs when they pass. We are going to be lean more on our defense this year and hopefully put our offense in key situations. And I think we should be ok. We still have some young kids on the defense, but I just want them to keep improving by flying around and playing physical football. If we can do that I will be happy."
The Ponies and Bulldogs will kickoff on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Whitefish. Havre opens its home schedule next Friday night with a nonconference game against Butte Central at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.