Late TD puts Skyhawks on top
Miles conference opener against Leduc decided by John Pysyk's score in the last minute of play
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 07, 2013 06:00 am
Johnny Bright Park – John Pysyk’s dramatic touchdown reception in the last minute of play lifted the St. Albert High Skyhawks to victory Wednesday to kick off the high school football season.
The scintillating 40-yard catch and run by the Grade 12 slotback with 40.2 seconds remaining in the Miles conference lid-lifter snapped a 22-all stalemate against the Leduc Tigers.
“It was a huge thrill,” a happy Pysyk told the Gazette after the 29-22 decision.
On first down, all-star quarterback Keith Zyla faked a handoff in shotgun formation before slinging the ball to a wide-open Pysyk. He reeled in the pigskin down the right hash marks around the 20 without breaking stride and bolted into the endzone with the Tigers in hot pursuit.
“I saw it coming in the air but I wasn’t sure if I would get it. The sun was kind of in my eyes but it ended up in my hands, thank God,” Pysyk said.
The catch of the day capped off a sharp three-play, 78-yard drive that started with 71 seconds left on the clock. Dan Tilley kicked the conversion.
The play before, on second down and seven at the Skyhawks’ 35, Zyla threatened to take off with the ball before hitting an uncovered Pysyk down the left side of the field with a perfect strike in front of the Skyhawks’ bench.
“I had to do something for the team,” said Pysyk, who was beating himself up over what he viewed as miscues committed earlier in the contest. “I stuck with it, caught it in the air and ran but I didn’t make it far.”
It was the only TD of the second half after both teams racked up three apiece during an interesting opening half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Leduc pulled even at 22 off a punt single that was bobbled by the Skyhawks about a yard inside the endzone in front of the goal posts with 8:25 left in the game.
“It was a great game but it was way too close. We wanted it to be obviously a bigger spread in the game but it’s good that we pulled out the win,” Pysyk said.
The Skyhawks fought back from a 21-8 deficit in the second quarter to lead 22-21 at halftime.
“With not having an exhibition game and having a very young team we were frankly intimidated a little bit in that first half,” said head coach Sam Johnson.
The Skyhawks opened the scoring on Tilley’s 25-yard field goal attempt for a single point on the team’s first possession. A fake punt by the hard-running Zyla in Leduc territory kept the drive going.
The first of three rushing TDs by Zyla was set up by Logan Tait-Vanderheide’s blocked punt to give the Skyhawks the ball at the Leduc 22. Zyla’s dash into the endzone from around the 15 was converted by Tilly.
Before quarter time, Leduc replied with TD runs from the 13 to complete a 70-yard march and the one on a drive that started from the Skyhawks’ 52 to lead 14-8.
In the second quarter Mitch Stykalo’s 25-yard field goal attempt fell short of the posts.
After a short punt by Zyla from the endzone and a penalty against the Skyhawks on the play put Leduc at the 26 and two plays later the Tigers scored from the seven to make it 21-8 with 4:15 left in the half.
After the kickoff the Skyhawks rebounded with a 69-yard scoring drive, as Zyla ran wild moving the ball downfield. A 10-yard completion to Stykalo at the nine led to Zyla’s sneak from the two.
The Skyhawks regained the lead on Zyla’s third TD, a determined eight-yard effort while bouncing off tackles, and Tilley’s conversion with 9.8 seconds to go before the break. Receptions by Pysyk for 21 yards and Stykalo for 13 in the last minute highlighted the 68-yard drive.
“We’re going to scare the heck out of some defences because we can move the ball. We push the pace and you better be fit in order to play with us,” Johnson said. “When you’ve got a quarterback like Keith and athletes at receiver like Stykalo and Pysyk (both were junior Hawks last year), once they get a little bit of confidence it’s infectious and when these kids start getting the confidence that they need to play in this offence, it can be scary.”
Zyla was a tough hombre for Leduc to stop while easily surpassing 100 yards rushing against the 2012 Miles champions. The Grade 12 Skyhawk was in midseason form working his magic out of the gun.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in Alberta,” Pysyk said of the team’s 2012 Haliburton Trophy nominee as the Carr conference’s most valuable player in the metro Edmonton league.
Defensive adjustments on both sides of the ball limited the scoring in the second half. Leduc was unsuccessful trying a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter and timey quarterback sacks by Matt Demers and Rory O’Donovan in the fourth quarter kept the Tigers from advancing into scoring range.
“Our defence was really on the ball. They were on their blocks and making their tackles. They really pushed for the offence to get that last touchdown by keeping the other guys out of endzone,” Pysyk said.
Up next for the 2012 Carr finalists and Tier III provincial silver medallists is the third annual Battle of St. Albert against the Paul Kane Blues. Thursday’s kickoff is 5 p.m. at Riel Recreation Park. Admission is $5.
“We’re going to approach it with our defence doing the same things as they did today but our offence needs to get a little bit stronger,” said Pysyk, 17.