It’s the year of the Skyhawks in St. Albert high school football.
The Skyhawks stymied the Paul Kane Blues 14-10 Thursday in front of a sparse crowd at Riel Recreation Park to complete a sweep of St. Albert teams in the metro Edmonton league.
“It’s awesome. It’s so much fun to play a St. Albert rival school. It’s a better feeling than playing another club. It has a bit more meaning to it. It’s like a St. Albert Bowl with the rivalry,” said an overjoyed Rocky Borrelli, the Skyhawks’ game star against Paul Kane with two touchdowns.
Last week the Skyhawks edged the Bellerose Bulldogs 14-13 in the 10th annual Battle of St. Albert.
“I don’t think this win was better than beating Bellerose,” Borrelli said. “Bellerose is definitely our biggest rival. It was the best day of my life beating them. It was so fun playing in that game.”
Head coach Sam Johnson tap danced around the question whether the win against Paul Kane – a feeder school for the Skyhawks’ football program before the Blues made their gridiron debut last year – was sweeter than knocking off Bellerose (4-1) after two losses to the Bulldogs.
“No. Again, it’s good to beat a local school. It’s also good to be 4-2,” Johnson stressed. “Honestly, for us, it’s just another game. We want to be in the top four in the Carr so we can get into the playoffs.”
The eighth-ranked Tier III team in the province rebounded smartly from last week’s 39-7 drubbing by the Salisbury Sabres (3-2) with a tight defensive performance against Paul Kane (2-4). It was the third game in 10 days for the St. Albert teams.
“We told our boys to be proud. This is four (wins) out of five now and holy smokes that’s good stuff,” Johnson said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and PK would be full of emotion. Rob (Strecker) and Tim (Enger) have a good team over there. (Quarterback) Cory Knott is a fantastic athlete and so is that 87 kid (Tyler Turner). We knew we had to come out and do a hard day’s work and that’s what we did.”
All the scoring took place in the first half.
“It was a very cerebral battle. We knew they had a good defence that would be flying around and we’ve got some guys banged up and we can’t do what we want to do offensively,” Johnson said.
The Blues opened the scoring on Isaac Kong’s league-high sixth field goal in seven attempts, a 26-yard effort to end the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Knott hit Grade 11 slotback Frankie White for a big first-down completion in Skyhawks’ territory, but a flag put the ball back at the Paul Kane 42. On the next play, a Knott bootleg close to the first-down marker was called back because of holding. On first down again, but back at the 32, Connor Macgillivray stopped Knott at the line of scrimmage. On second down and long, Knott completed a pass to White but the Blues were called for holding again.
The Blues eventually punted from deep in their end and the Skyhawks took over the ball at the Paul Kane 43. After a successful third and one conversion on Keith Zyla’s quarterback sneak, the Skyhawks rattled off four running plays, ending with a greasy five-yard TD by Borrelli with 4:39 remaining in the half. Max Chabot kicked the convert.
“Nothing was open so I kind of cut back, dove and the next thing I knew I was in the endzone,” Borrelli said.
After the kickoff, Knott was picked off by Zyla, when the ball bounced out of White’s hands around the Paul Kane 40. The Grade 11 safety plucked the ball out of the air and took off like a bolt of lightning to the endzone. However a penalty to the Skyhawks brought the ball back to the 40.
A third down stop by the Blues gave them possession at their 31 with 2:30 to go. A few plays later, a basket catch by White for a 33-yard gain led to Turner’s seventh TD, a 14-yard reception with 1:59 left. Kong’s convert made it 10-7.
The Blues got the ball back after a two-and-out by the Skyhawks, but on first down at the Paul Kane 38, Knott threw his third pick of the half. Borrelli, a Grade 12 starter at slotback and cornerback, reeled in the ball around midfield and stormed into the endzone untouched with 61 seconds on the clock. Chabot’s convert was good.
“I was actually just trying to deflect the ball and it ended up popping into my hands and I took off,” said Borrelli of his sixth TD of the season.
Both teams buckled down defensively during a hard-fought second half.
“Our defence stepped up and made stops on their offence. That really took their momentum away and put our offence back on the field,” said Borrelli, 17. “Both teams are very talented on defence and offence. With the adjustments and how hard everyone was playing it was like a grudge match.”
The loss was a major letdown for the Blues after last week’s 41-30 set-back to the Ardrossan Bisons (4-2), ranked second in Tier IV.
The Blues also fell 15-0 to the Skyhawks last year in the first meeting between the senior teams.
“It was a big game for us. This was like our playoff game. We needed to win it and we should’ve won it,” White said. “The first half we came out strong but in the second half we came out flat.”
White, 17, came up with a big defensive play in the third quarter, when the defensive halfback picked off Zyla at the Paul Kane 40 but the Blues could only muster one first down before punting.
The Skyhawks amped up the pressure on Knott in the second half, forcing the Grade 11 standout to scramble for his life. The most successful offensive plays by the Blues were bootlegs by Knott and pass completions to White. However they weren’t enough to consistently move the sticks for first downs. Penalties also proved costly as the game wound down.
With under six minutes to play, the Blues turned the ball over on downs at the 21, 43 and 51 of the Skyhawks on their last three possessions.
“We were that close, we just needed something to work to get that one big play,” White said. “We just needed to give our quarterback some time to pass the ball.”
The next game for the Blues is Oct. 18 against the winless Archbishop Jordan Scots at 5 p.m. at the Riel turf field.
The Skyhawks huddle up Thursday against Ardrossan at 5 p.m. in St. Albert.