Stars shine in shutout
Alberta Football Legaue team whips Stallions 55-0
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Stars looked like contenders in Saturday’s shutout victory instead of pretenders in the previous weekend’s loss to the Alberta Football League champions.
The Stars lit up the Edmonton Stallions for seven touchdowns and 55 points at Riel Recreation Park after a disappointing 19-10 season debut against the Calgary Gators.
“This is a huge confidence boost for us going forward for the rest of the season,” said assistant captain Jon Burke. “Last week all of us were pretty depressed because of the loss and the stupid mistakes we made.”
It was a must-win game for last year’s AFL finalists after failing to live up to the pre-season hype in their home opener against the Gators.
“After losing that first game we needed to do something today and we did,” said linebacker/place kicker Korey Johnson. “We executed really well today. Offensively we moved the ball. Defensively we shut them down. We didn’t give the quarterback any time to pass.”
The shutout was especially satisfying for the Stars.
“Oh man, it’s the best confidence booster for us because it shows that not only was our defence good but our offence was good too,” said Burke, a six-foot-four and 320-pound bruiser at left guard.
The Stars pounded the ball as Neil Graham, Manny (Flash) Gordon and rugby standout Matt Jarvis combined for 310 yards and two TDs on 32 carries.
“Our O-line was pushing hard. We pushed them all the way down the field. We were operating pretty well,” Burke said.
Gordon’s 19-yard TD dash capped off a 54-yard drive to kick off the third quarter and Johnson’s conversion made it 31-0.
The elusive Gordon finished the game with 112 yards on 11 handoffs.
Late in the quarter Graham bolted 63 yards to the house and another Johnson conversion increased the lead to 48.
Graham gained a team-high 130 yards on 12 carries.
Quarterback Troy Pappas also scored three TDs on a pair of one-yard keepers and a six-yard bootleg as the Stars led by 21 with 10:54 left in the first half.
“Our O-line dominated them today and when you get the push from the O-line the holes open up and it’s demoralizing to their defence. It also keeps our defence off the field. It gives us a break and we can come back and shut them down,” Johnson said.
Game-breaker Tyler Wilson returned a punt 60 yards to pay dirt with 9:15 to go in the third quarter and in the opening minute of the fourth quarter the electrifying slotback pulled off a great catch in the endzone as backup quarterback Jeff Czernysz fired a 32-yard TD strike.
Czernysz completed three out of five passes for 76 yards.
The Stallions were destined for failure after Freddy Guay forced the visitors to fumble away the opening kick off at their 22 and Lam Luri recovered the ball.
The Stars would turn the ball over on downs but on their next possession the Stallions were flagged for pass interference in the endzone, setting the stage for Pappas’ first TD on third and go from the one.
In the second quarter the Stallions coughed up the ball fielding a punt and Zach Wray pounced on it at the 13. A few plays later Johnson split the uprights from inside the 20.
After the Stallions gave up a safety midway through the third quarter the Stars moved the ball into field goal range, highlighted by Czernysz’s pass to Josh Gillespie at the 25 for the first down. The Stars settled for a single point as Johnson missed his second field goal attempt of the contest.
Johnson also recovered his own kick off after Graham’s major and the Stars capitalized with Wilson’s TD catch.
On defence Cam Ridgeway, Guillaume Petit and Aaron McComish registered sacks, Johnson and Keith Matchem led the team in tackles with five solo and two assists apiece and Jared Nytchay recovered a fumble against the Stallions, 37-0 losers in their season opener against the expansion Fort McMurray Monarchs.
“Everybody on our team was operating on all cylinders today. We had fun,” said Burke, 28, an AFL veteran with previous stops with the now-defunct Sherwood Park Renegades and Edmonton Garrison Army.
The Prince Albert high school product and former Saskatoon Hilltops junior believes this is the year for the Stars to shine after going 6-4 in their inaugural AFL campaign.
“We have a lot of talent and we’re going to have a good season,” said the general manager of the Mixx Party Bar on Whyte Avenue.
“Last year we came out and surprised a lot of people because they underestimated us so we went far. This season they are holding us a little higher but the team is even better than last year. Our offensive line is a lot bigger, a little stronger and a lot faster. We have some really good running backs. There is a lot more depth to the team as well.”
Compared to last year, when the Stars lost twice to the undefeated Gators by scores of 17-12 in the last game before the playoffs and 41-16 in the AFL final, the team “looks scary” according to Johnson.
“Athletically we’re above last year. The guys are in shape. They’re buying in this year and we’re starting to gel as a team,” said the former outstanding defensive player in the Prairie Football Conference and all-Canadian linebacker with the Edmonton Huskies.
The Archbishop Jordan Scots’ alumnus hooked up with the Stars last year and was impressed with the AFL’s competitiveness.
“You’re combining all the best athletes from junior, university and pro. Of course you don’t have as much commitment because you’re only practicing twice a week but athletically-wise it’s on par if not higher than junior,” said Johnson, 26, a power engineer at Shell.
The Stars huddle up Saturday in Calgary against the Wolfpack at 7 p.m. The Wolfpack are 1-1 after defeating the Monarchs 39-19 last weekend.