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Blue Ponies aim to silence the Panther roar

Week Four: Back in the Pony


September 14, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Mason Dionne and the Havre Blue Ponies will play the Belgrade Panthers one final time when the two rivals meet for an Eastern A showdown tonight at 7 inside Blue Pony Stadium. Belgrade is leaving Class A for Class AA next year.

Winning on the road is never easy but when you play in the Eastern A, winning at home isn't either, especially when the team you're playing is as hot as the Belgrade Panthers.

Yet, that is the challenge that faces the Havre High football team tonight as it welcomes the fourth-ranked Panthers into Blue Pony Stadium for an Eastern A showdown with plenty on the line for both teams. Kickoff between the two long-time rivals is set for 7.

"Our goal is just to try and be 1-0 again," HHS head coach Ryan Gatch said. "That's going to be our goal for each week, but last week I thought we really focused in on that and the things that we could control and that's what we need to keep doing. We went out against a very good team and were competitive for the entire game and that was fun to see."

While the Panthers come into the game with a perfect 3-0 record following wins over Sidney, Livingston and Miles City, HHS has lost back-to-back games on the road against Lewistown and Laurel. A common theme in both of those defeats was a defense that gave up a lot of big plays through the air. In both games, the Havre defense surrendered four touchdown passes and an average of 245 yards per game.

Stopping the pass will be important against Belgrade, a team that averages 146 yards per game through the air, but stopping the run will be key, too. What makes that difficult against the Panthers is the dual-threat capability of quarterback Dyson Cheney, who has frustrated opponents with both his arm and his legs. Two weeks ago, in the win over Livingston, Cheney ran for two touchdowns. But last week against Miles City, he did his damage through the air, connecting on 12-of-15 passes for 237 yards and three scores in addition to another touchdown run.

Cheney and running back Ethan Major are a key part of the offense, which averages 130 yards per game on the ground, however, neither is the most dynamic player on the offense. That title belongs to All-State wide receiver Easton Page, who caught touchdown passes of 66 and 61 yards last week in the win over Miles City.

"Belgrade is pretty good this year," Gatch said. "Easton page is having a really good year for them, and it will be fun to see how we can step it up defensively and get after them."

Havre has been more vulnerable against the pass overall, allowing 166 yards per game to opponents, but the Ponies have also done a solid job of forcing teams to be one dimensional and, through three games, are giving up just 78 yards per contest on the ground.

Of course, stopping the run is always important, but when Havre has the football, establishing a solid rushing attack will be paramount. So far, Havre is averaging 131 rushing yards per game behind Mason Dionne, who is the team's leading rusher with 61 yards per game and a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Starting quarterback Reese Bulkley has also been a threat on the ground and is second on the team with an average of 35 yards per game and one rushing touchdown. Bulkley also has six touchdown passes so far this season, with five going to Ethan Roberts. The sixth went to Hunter Lovenguth.

Roberts, a two-way star for Havre, has proven to be among the top pass catchers in Class A and in just three games, he has 18 receptions for 301 yards and five touchdowns. He will also help spearhead the effort on defense from the safety position, where he earned Second-Team All-Conference honors last season.

Roberts will be a key part of defending both the run and the pass in the secondary. Joining him on the back end will be Bulkley, Lovenguth and Max Olson. The linebacking core will be led by Dionne, who is one of the team leaders in tackles, along with Bradyn Winchell and Caleb Allestad, who have each been solid. On the defensive line, Kellen Dietrick, who has three sacks, has been a force off the edge for Havre. Detrick and Quinn Springer have been the top pass rushers, while Dexter Beck has also had a positive impact inside for the Pony defense.

"They are playing really good football," Gatch said. "They went on the road and beat Livingston. So they are going to be tough but we just have to go out and play hard like we did last week. We looked a lot more like we did against Hardin and it was good to see that."

No matter who the opponent, one thing is for sure, the Ponies are excited to play on their home field again, with a chance to not only upset a rival, but also to put themselves squarely into the Eastern A playoff mix.

"I know that it will be fun this week to get back to Blue Pony," Gatch said. "These guys do get excited about playing at home and they are ready to go out there and compete."

Havre (1-2) and Belgrade (3-0) will kickoff tonight at 7 inside Blue Pony Stadium. Tonight's game will be the final meeting between Havre and Belgrade, as the Panthers will move to Class AA in 2019-20.

Havre Blue Ponies (1-2) vs Belgrade Panthers (3-0)

Tonight at 7 p.m.

Blue Pony Stadium

Radio: 610 KOJM AM


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