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Blue Ponies try and ground the soaring Eagles

 

August 31, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High quarterback Reese Bulkley takes a shotgun snap last Friday against the Hardin Bulldogs in a game at Blue Pony Stadium. The Ponies will look to improve their record to 2-0 tonight with a win over Lewistown. The game will start at 7 p.m.

There is always something special about rivalry games and when it comes to the Havre High football team, no rivalry means more than Lewistown.

And tonight, the two schools will renew their rivalry as the Blue Ponies head to Lewistown for a critical showdown within the Eastern A Conference. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

"It's a good rivalry game," HHS head coach Ryan Gatch said. "I didn't quite understand the complexity of the rivalry when I first became the head coach, but after two contests, you understand that it's a very good rivalry game and that makes it fun. That's what makes football fun."

While the first week of the season proved fun for Havre, which shutout Hardin by the score of 24-0, the opposite could be said of Lewistown. The Eagles, marred by special teams blunders, dropped its opening game to Laurel 38-12. Despite the score, Gatch said this Eagles team is very good and can't be overlooked.

"This is a really good football team," Gatch said. "They gave away from points on special teams, so I think that will be a big focus for them this week. They spotted (Laurel) 21 points on special teams and ending up losing by 26, so if you take those 21 points away, they would be right in the ballgame."

Playing on the road, especially in the Eastern A is never easy. But for Havre, playing at Lewistown has been more than just difficult, it's been a nightmare.

"I don't know if it's any different than any of the other places," Gatch said. "We have had our struggles playing on the road and it's tough. That's why it's nice to have people come play at Blue Pony here. We have a good home-field advantage but so does Lewistown. They will have a nice crowd down there."

Another challenge Havre has to deal with is the Eagles immense talent, particularly at the skill positions. The Eagles return an All-Conference quarterback in senior signal caller Mitchell Norslien, as well as one of the top wideouts in the Eastern A in Tanner Trafton, another All-Conference pick. However, the heart and soul of the Lewistown offense is running back Wes Jameson, who earned Class A All-State honors last season.

"Last week they got behind and had to throw a little more than they wanted," Gatch said. "They really want to try and run the football and that's what they will try to do. They have a very good running back, a very good quarterback and a very good wide receiver."

Having a key player at quarterback, running back and receiver makes an offense tough to stop, but after last week's win over Hardin, it looks like the Ponies might have the exact same formula. Havre quarterback Reese Bulkley was stellar in his first-career start under center, completing 8-of-11 passes for 140 yards, in addition to 47 yards rushing. In all, he accounted for three HHS touchdowns, two throwing and another rushing.

"He's a really calm kid and he has some really great leadership attributes," Gatch said. "That's the thing that stood out last year when I first approached him about playing quarterback. He's a fun guy to coach."

As impressive as Bulkley was, Ethan Roberts and Mason Dionne also starred in the win over Hardin and will need to be equally good against the Eagles tonight. Roberts, a senior wide receiver, caught seven passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, from 46 and 43 yards out in the first quarter of the win over Hardin. Dionne, Havre's starting running back, carried the ball 20 times for 118 yards.

"We really want to be balanced," Gatch said. "We want to be able to throw the football but I think anytime you are playing a football game, you want to control the line of scrimmage."

Havre racked up 350 yards of offense and nearly 200 yards on the ground against Hardin, yet, the Pony defense also had a good night, limiting the Bulldogs to just 70 total yards, four first downs and three pass completions.

Bulkley, Roberts and Dionne all start on the defensive side of the ball, too, at corner, safety and linebacker respectively, however, the most impactful player on defense during the first week of the season was sophomore Kellen Detrick, who had a pair of sacks against Hardin, as well as a fumble recovery. Quinn Springer, the other starting defensive end, is another name to watch up front.

"I was happy with how our offensive and defensive line played last week," Gatch said. "I thought we controlled the team from Hardin, but this week is a different animal. They have some really good players up front and that is one of the strengths of their team."

Winning in the trenches will be critical for Havre again this week, but so will winning the turnover battle. The Ponies didn't turn the ball over against Hardin and ended up plus two in turnover margin, which is something HHS is hoping to replicate in Lewistown.

In the standings, the game is critical for both teams. A win for the Ponies would get them off to a 2-0 start, while at the same time, Lewistown is hoping to win to avoid going 0-2.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," Gatch said. "They are a really good football team, but I think we are pretty good too."

Havre and Lewistown will get things underway tonight at 7.

 

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