By George Ferguson
The Sidney Eagles aren't ranked as the No. 1 team in Class A without a reason. Behind a powerful, balanced offensive attack, the Eagles came into Blue Pony Stadium Friday night and soundly defeated the Havre Blue Ponies, 35-20, in nonconference action.
"Sidney had a powerful rushing attack and they are very solid fundamentally," said Havre High head coach Troy Purcell. "They showed that they're a real solid football team."
Although the loss puts the Ponies at 0-2 on the season, Purcell was able to put a positive spin on things.
"We just played two of the toughest nonconference games you can play to begin the season," Purcell said. "We'll learn from these games and get better as the season goes on."
Both teams began the game with a possession that resulted in no points, but on the Eagles' second possession of the game Sidney's rushing attack began to take control. Sidney started a drive that began on its own 38-yard line and was capped off by fullback B.J. Houchen's 38-yard run to the end zone straight up the middle of the field. But Cole Fink missed the extra point giving the Eagles a 6-0 lead at the 5:47 mark.
It didn't take the Ponies long to answer. Steve Heberly took the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown that would briefly give Havre the lead at 7-6.
Heberly's electrifying run was actually set up by Steven Harman, who took the kickoff out of the air and started to run left before handing the ball to Heberly, who then took it the distance.
It was the only lead that Havre would have in the game. Sidney answered right back with another solid drive that included several long pass plays, including a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Kringen to running back Nick Bawden on 4th down that gave the Eagles the lead at 13-7.
The Eagles got the ball right back on the following kickoff. Not wanting to give up another long return, Sidney squibbed the kickoff, which bounced off an unsuspecting Tyler Thompson's leg. The Eagles recovered the ball, setting up great field position that would eventually lead to a Gary Melby 5-yard scamper. Sidney made the two-point conversion to take 20-7 with 11:02 left in the half. The scoring drive had been set up by a key Bawden run on 4th down and 2 that was more than enough for the first down and kept the drive alive.
Turnovers plagued Havre to start the second quarter. On the Ponies' first possession quarterback Justin Kegel was picked off right away, but the Pony defense held, forcing Sidney to go 3 and out.
On the next possession the Ponies drove all the way down to the Sidney 10-yard line but a fumble cost the Ponies points again.
Sidney capitalized on the turnover with Kringen and Bawden hooking up for another scoring pass just before the gun sounded on the first half, leaving the Eagles with a 28-7 lead.
Defense and turnovers were the story of the third quarter as each team turned the ball over in the period but neither team could capitalize.
Sitting on a 21-point lead, Sidney was more than content to just chew up the clock and grind out the win. The Eagles began a drive on their own 34-yard line with 1:55 left in the third stanza. The drive went deep into Havre territory but the Eagles turned the ball over on the Havre goal line, giving the Ponies some life, but it chewed up more than eight minutes.
Havre broke its scoring drought when Harman picked up a Bawden fumble on the Havre 25-yard line and raced 75 yards for a touchdown, bringing the Ponies within 14 points.
With time running out and in desperate need of getting the ball back, Havre attempted an on-side kick but Colby Mader's kick bounced short. Instead of simply falling on the ball, Sidney's Cole Prevost scooped it up and returned it 50 yards for the touchdown that would seal the Ponies' fate.
Havre got on the board one more time on a late 37-yard TD pass from Kegel to Heberly and the game ended with a 35-20 score.
The Eagles amassed more than 350 yards of total offense and while they were well-earned, Purcell said his defense made some crucial mistakes as well.
"We definitely had some blown coverages and missed assignments that resulted in some big plays," Purcell said. "We had a few key turnovers that killed some drives. But we came out in the second half and kept their offense out of the end zone and I was pleased with that second-half effort."
One area Purcell thinks his team improved upon from the first week was special teams.
"I thought we shined on special teams," Purcell said. "Harman and Heberly are both big play threats and I thought Kegel's punting was much improved this week."
Offensively the Ponies were led by Kegel, who was 12 of 18 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown. Heberly had six catches for 109 yards and a score as well as his kick return.
The Ponies begin conference play this week when they travel to Glendive Friday night.