There is just something special about the start of the high school football season. The long days of summer are over and the brisk, cool air of fall is still lingering around the corner. The grass is green and freshly cut, and the starch white lines and numbers neatly panted on the field can only mean one thing, football is back.
And nobody is ready for the new season like the Central A Havre Blue Ponies. Saturday at 2 p.m. the Ponies will get their season started by hosting the Class A Whitefish Bulldogs at Blue Pony Stadium.
Last season the Ponies finished with a record of 5-4, earning their way into the Class A state playoffs.
Now the Ponies are back. They return a solid group of athletes from a year ago, as well as adding a couple new names. HHS is hungrier than ever to take the field, and to add a little extra incentive, the Burlington Northern Santa Fey (BNSF) trophy is on the line yet again on Saturday.
“It’s nice to have it (BNSF trophy) for the fans and Havre,” Havre High head football coach Jason Christenson said. “But more importantly for us and the kids, we want to get that win.
“The kids just want to hit somebody and see somebody else on the field,” Christenson added. “The kids are fired up just to start the season, and now the games mean something. We can scrimmage all we want and they don’t really mean anything, but now it’s for something, and our goals are to win the conference and eventually a state title.”
A year ago the Ponies defeated the Bulldogs by more than 40 points and had another run in the state playoffs. This year the Ponies should handle the Bulldogs again, and hopefully build on that success. HHS has also had the BNSF trophy for the last four seasons now, and has had it seven times out of the 10-year run.
A win over Whitefish will also help the Ponies out in the long run. With the win the Blue Ponies would match their team up against the Western A by watching how the Bulldogs do throughout the season.
“Playing a quality opponent like Whitefish,” Christenson said. “And if we get a win over them we can keep track of how we look against the rest of the west. But we really want to get off on the right foot and get that good taste and feeling, and a win will give us that.”
But even with the dominating win over the Bulldogs a year ago, it is not the same Whitefish team coming back to Havre. The Bulldogs only lost a couple starters from a year ago. And while they were young, the majority of their varsity sophomores, the Bulldogs return a team with much more varsity experience. The Bulldogs can always expect good things from Christopher Forrest (quarterback and defensive back), Jacob Forrest (offensive lineman and defensive end), Max Smith (tight end and linebacker), Wolf Zinke (lineman), Connor Donahue (quarterback and defensive end) and Gage Vasquez (wide receiver and defensive end).
The Bulldogs are always solid at the quarterback position, and with nine receivers on the squad, the Ponies are well aware of the fact that they like to air out the ball.
“They are a seasoned team,” Christenson said. “We have been watching game film on them from last season, and their offense shouldn’t really change much. They have some very talented skill players on offense including some dangerous wide receivers, so there shouldn’t be any reason for them to shy away from throwing the ball.
“We just have to have our kids in the key positions and get some pressure on that quarterback,” Christenson added.
Evan Flathers, Brandon Smith and Thurman Holdsclaw will work hard at keeping the Bulldogs’ quarterback on his back from the defensive end position, and Casey Schaub, Eli Hinebauch and Kameron Pribyl will also have their hands full from the linebacker positions. Defensive backs Ryan Brandt, Brayden Grimson, Mark Vukasin and Zach Plum will also be key on defensive, taking on the Bulldogs receiving core.
On offense, the Ponies will also be up against a much-improved Whitefish defense. Schaub and Brandt should have huge games on the ground and Grimson and Plum could very well explode from the receiving positions. Holdsclaw is new to the team, but with his speed and size, look for him to have a huge game as well.
Justin Jensen will benefit the most from the talented offense as the returning varsity quarterback. He had a solid season a year ago and should exploit the Bulldogs defense on Saturday.
“We expect the Whitefish defense to be aggressive,” Christenson said. “They don’t stunt a lot, but they will come after us. We are working heavy on our pickups, and as far as attacking their defense, we are going to spread them out and do what we do.”
Overall the Blue Ponies should have big day against Whitefish, but it is going to take a solid team effort to do so.
“Everybody just has to play as a unit and as a team,” Christenson said. “We don’t have just one superstar to look upon, we just have to look towards each other to make big plays. And I think it’s going to be a total team effort, not just this game, but the whole season.”
The Ponies will host Whitefish on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. Havre will honor the 1961 HHS state championship team at halftime of the game. For more on the 1961 team and the Blue Ponies, see Page C2.