With every new season comes new players, new opponents and new goals for the Havre High football program.
The Central A Blue Ponies finished the year 5-4 last season. And while two of those losses came to the state champion Miles City Cowboys, and one came to the Belgrade Panthers, a Class A semifinal team, the Ponies exited the season earlier than hoped. Miles City’s second win over the Ponies came in the playoffs, knocking Havre out in the first round.
But as the Ponies look to move forward, preparing to open the season against Whitefish on Saturday, they have some very talented shoes to fill.
Josh Salapich was a dominating offensive lineman for HHS and a solid athlete all around. And Corderro Strickland will be missed the most, has the Ponies’ speedy wide receiver.
Logan Connor will also be missed, but this one hurts the most, as it wasn’t planned. Connor was entering his senior season after a very impressive junior year at the wide receiver and cornerback positions. Connor was the No. 1 receiver and led the team in interceptions last year, but tore his ACL over the summer.
“We have to make sure the kids that we have are prepared,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “They have the opportunity now and they have to realize that. They have a golden opportunity to shine and to show the conference, the state and the rest of Havre that they are the guy.”
The talent the Ponies still have on the roster is sure to step up this season.
Senior Brayden Grimson has what it takes to carry the Ponies from the wide out position. He was solid target for the team a year ago and has paid his dues coming into the new season.
“He worked his tail off in the off season and made himself into a lot better player,” Christenson said.
But senior Ryan Brandt and Junior Zack Plum should also look to step up as wide receivers. Brandt made a name for himself as mostly a running back last season, but has the hands and speed to become a threat at both positions this season.
In addition, junior Thurman Holdsclaw hung up his golf clubs and grabbed a helmet this fall for the Ponies. It is his first year playing football, but Christenson looks for him to be an instant impact player with his size and speed on offense and defense. Holdsclaw will lineup as a defensive end and wide receiver.
“We expect a lot out of him,” Christenson said. “He is brand new, but we expect big things. He has great hands, he is just a little raw, but still explosive. He is a big kid and can jump, so he is going to be somebody for teams to recon with.”
The passing game looks to be a strength this season, and with senior Justin Jensen returning as the team's quarterback, he has the arm to take full advantage.
Casey Schaub should also have another dominating season if he can stay healthy. Schaub is a force in the backfield, and ran all over defenses last year, racking up several multi touchdown games with his powerful style of running. Schaub also wreaks havoc on defense as one of the Ponies linebackers.
Seniors Kameron Pribyl, Eli Hinebauch and Evan Flathers also return for the Ponies, and will be factors on both sides of the ball, but should really shine on defense. Pribyl is an offensive lineman as well as a linebacker, while Hinebauch is a linebacker and Flathers is an offensive and defensive lineman as well
Grimson (DB), Brandt (DB), Brandon Smith (defensive end), Holdsclaw (defensive end) and Mark Vukasin (DB) will also be key on defense this year, as the Ponies must be prepared to equally stop the run and passing attack.
Senior Ethan Hettinger will help hold down the offensive line, as will senior Joey DeVries. Senior Trent Nystrom will also be a key component to the defensive line this season.
Other players who will look to impact the varsity lineup include seniors Chet Schrauger, Cole Molyneaux and Donny Lohman, and junior Grant Pattison, as well as Thomas Gruber, Layton Ophus, Robby Mooney, Clayton White, John Gardipee and Jake Lohman.
The sophomores include Daniel Miller, Kendall Swan, Kade Rimson, David Borris, Brian Smith, Tristan Manuel, Trevor Jensen, Jake Williams, Dustin Odegard, Keenan Bibeau, Tyler Adams and Ned Malone.
“We have more kids who have stepped up and they are all thirsty from last year,” Christenson said. “They still have that bad taste in their mouth from that loss in the first round of the playoffs and they don’t want to do that anymore. They are fired up and enthusiastic to play.”
This season will be another tough one in the Central A. Belgrade always has a large talent pool to pick from, and the Panthers are always tough. Livingston and Lewistown should be competitive too, but the Ponies have handled them easily lately, especially last season, and should look to do so again. Browning will also make a tough opponent with their speed and running game, but the Ponies have what it takes to make it out of the Central A and make another run at the post season.
HHS will also have a challenging schedule this season.
Havre plays Whitefish, Miles City, Lewistown (homecoming), and Livingston at home this season. And on the road, the Ponies will play Butte Central, Sidney, Belgrade and Libby, making it and equally tough home and away schedule.
But if the Ponies can put all the pieces together, they will be as tough as the completion.
They have a tough run and pass game on offense, and some of the most talented defenders in the state, especially in their linebacking core. Look for the Ponies not only to match their success from a season ago, but to build on that behind second year-head coach Christenson.
The Blue Ponies will get their season started on Saturday at the Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, when they put the BNSF traveling trophy on the line and host the Whitefish Bulldogs in non-conference play.