Skyhawks fall to Bisons
Losing 42-14 to Ardrossan was a setback for the Tier III provincial hopefuls
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 12, 2013 06:00 am
St. Albert High Skyhawks took it on the chin in Thursday’s staggering loss to the Ardrossan Bisons during the opening round in the Tier III provincial qualifier in metro Edmonton football.
Ardrossan, listed ninth in the Football Alberta rankings for high schools with a student population of 450 to 749 students, whipped the No. 6-ranked Skyhawks 42-14 at Riel Recreation Park.
Skyhawks head coach Sam Johnson, normally a gregarious fellow win or lose, surprising declined an interview request after the team's post-game pray at midfield and handed the ball off to defensive coordinator Garrett Doll to sum up the second defeat of the season and the first since the 78-14 massacre by the Paul Kane Blues on Sept. 12.
“A loss is always disappointing, however I thought the guys worked hard and they competed,” said Doll, co-principal at St. Albert Catholic High School.
Logan Tait-Vanderheide, a hulking Grade 11 defensive end and running back, had a different take on the outcome.
“In the first quarter, for the first couple of series, we did come out to play but after that I did see a decline in everyone's motivation to play and unfortunately that's what lost us the game today,” Tait-Vanderheide said. “We did our best but all in all we didn't come out to play today.”
With one game remaining in the regular season, the 2012 Tier III provincial finalists will have to finish higher than Ardrossan in the Miles conference playoffs to represent the metro league for the third-straight year.
“It’s whoever goes the farthest in the playoffs and then if it’s tied it goes to this game,” Doll explained.
Depending on next week's result, Ardrossan (4-2) now has a leg up on the Skyhawks (4-2) in the race for second place behind the juggernaut Blues (5-0), the No. 2-ranked Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) team in Alberta, for an opening-round playoff bye.
Teams finishing third to sixth in the conference huddle up in the Oct. 22 playoffs and the semifinals are three days later.
Thursday the Skyhawks (4-2) host the McNally Tigers (3-2) at 5 p.m. in St. Albert and admission is $5.
“We’ve done our best all year and that’s all we’re striving for,” Tait-Vanderheide said. “This was pretty disappointing as any loss is but we can’t dwell on the past. We have to focus on next week.”
The status of Keith Zyla, a standout Grade 12 quarterback, punter and safety who dressed but didn’t play against Ardrossan because of a lower body injury sustained in last week’s 14-9 squeaker against the O’Leary Spartans (2-3), is uncertain.
Doll said Zyla, the Skyhawks’ nominee for the Halliburton Trophy as the Carr conference MVP last year, is day to day.
“Keith is probably the top football player in this tier. He could’ve played but we said no. We don't want to risk it. We said he should make sure that he rests the knee. It’s what’s best for Keith,” said the president of the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association.
The loss of Zyla – 56-for-79 passing for 656 yards and 10 touchdowns and one interception and the team leader in rushing with 347 yards on 39 carries for six TDs – had repercussions against Ardrossan.
His replacement at quarterback, Mitch Stykalo, turned in a gutsy performance under difficult circumstances. The junior Hawks nominee for last year’s Grant Yuzyk Award as the junior league’s MVP located Aaron Fleming in the endzone for a 10-yard strike and Dan Tilley’s conversion gave the Skyhawks their only lead of the game at 7-6 with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
The TD capped off a lengthy, run-oriented 77-yard drive.
However, the passing attack struggled with consistency with the Bisons charging hard at Stykalo.
The Skyhawks’ offence revolves around Zyla passing or running the ball and the last option is handing off the pigskin, but they ran the ball more than usual with Tait-Vanderheide, Rory O’Donovan and Dan Tilley alternating in the backfield.
“It’s definitely difficult (without Zyla) but I have trust in our backup – in Mitch,” said Tait-Vanderheide, 15.
Stykalo also picked off a pass from his safety position at the Skyhawks’ 34 on Ardrossan’s first possession of the contest.
In the second half the Skyhawks shelved their punt game without Zyla booting the ball. In the second quarter Ardrossan blew through the middle of the offensive line to block Stykalo’s attempt from the 11, which led to a four-yard TD and two-point conversion catch to put the Bisons on top 14-7 with 5:16 remaining until halftime, as well as Tilley’s kick from the 26 but Bisons were unable to cash the turnover into points on third and goal at the three with 11.4 seconds left until the break and Ardrossan in front 21-7.
“The people that were in there misunderstood what they were supposed to be doing and so it went the wrong way,” Doll said. “It was tough and it ended up we were in three-down football after that.”
Doll singled out the Skyhawks’ defence as the main culprit in the loss.
“We needed to execute a lot better on defence, absolutely, because we needed to support our offence,” said the U18 Team Alberta defensive coordinator at the 2013 Football Canada Cup. “We needed to stop them on their drives.”
The Skyhawks’ secondary was unable to contain Brett Enns, a big slotback who teamed up with sidearm-throwing quarterback Kyle Boyko for TD-scoring catch and runs of 48 yards in the second quarter, 50 yards on the second play in the third quarter and 65 yards on second and 25 with 3:32 to play.
On the Skyhawks’ TD to end the third quarter to close the gap to 28-14, Tilley was the main spoke in the wheel during a drive that ended with a short burst by the Skyhawks into the endzone.
“Tilley ran the ball hard. He probably had 20-plus touches,” Doll said.