The St. Albert High Skyhawks are the real deal in high school football.
The fourth-ranked Tier III team in Alberta is a sparkling 2-0 in the division two Miles conference schedule.
“We would like to be ranked No. 1 of course but to be 2-0 feels good,” said Danny Johnson, a Grade 12 outside linebacker and running back.
The Skyhawks are turning heads with a strong Grade 10 class and the returning players from last year’s 4-6 team have led by example.
“We’re coming together as a team. It’s pretty good,” said Jackson Ganton, a Grade 10 slotback and defensive halfback. “We’ve got a lot of skill. Last year we had Sam (Cuciz, a Miles’ all-star at quarterback) and he was really good and now we’ve got a good QB in Ewan (Vanderheide). He’s in Grade 10 and he keeps stepping it up.
“We also have a lot of good linebackers, running backs and linemen.”
The latest win was Friday’s 57-20 lopsided result against the Archbishop Jordan Scots (0-2) at Larry Olexiuk Field.
“It wasn’t an easy battle at all,” Johnson said. “The first half defensively we didn’t play that well but we found a way to get it done. We tightened everything up and did our thing.
“We performed well.”
Josh Lebrun and Johnson led the Skyhawks in tackles with nine and seven, respectively.
“We made some errors on D but if we had cleaned those up we could’ve had a shutout,” Ganton said. “Our offence is performing well it’s just our defence having some errors but other than that it was a good game.”
Christian Pulis, a dangerous running back and 2016 Miles’ all-star, ripped it up for 204 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
Vanderheide gained 92 yards on eight runs, plus a 20-yard TD, and hit Ganton in the endzone for a 21-yard scoring strike.
“Our run game is pretty good and our pass game is getting there, we just need to get past some issues and we should be good,” said Ganton, who rushed for four majors on five carries for 89 yards.
“Our linemen and running backs helped with blocks so I have to hand it to them because without them I couldn’t get those touchdowns,” said Ganton, a teammate of Vanderheide on the undefeated Alberta squad at the Football Canada U16 Western Challenge in July at Lethbridge. They also huddled up with Matt Swecera of the Skyhawks at the seventh annual Football Alberta Bantam Bowl in May.
Ganton is also among 19 Albertans named to the Western Canada U16 all-star team that will represent Canada against Team USA at the 2018 International Bowl in January in Texas.
Ganton, 15, hasn’t missed a beat since joining the Skyhawks as a graduate of the bantam St. Albert Palmer 49ers.
“It’s just the size. You have to get used to how big some of the kids are. You have to be cautious but other than that it’s nothing new,” said the high-level lacrosse player.
The Skyhawks kicked off league play in the 21-9 victory over the host Ardrossan Bisons (0-2), last year’s Miles’ finalists and Tier IV (449 or less students) provincial north semifinalists.
“We played better against ABJ than we did against Ardrossan,” Johnson said. “We made a couple of mental errors on the field against Ardrossan. We could’ve put up more points but we just didn’t do it.”
On tap next for the Skyhawks is the Battle of St. Albert against the Paul Kane Blues. Friday’s kickoff is 5 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.
Admission is $5 and the Paul Kane students’ union will be serving hot dogs in the parking lot during the pre-game tailgate party.
“It should be fun,” Ganton said.
“The energy in the locker room is definitely high for it,” Johnson added.
There is no pressure on the Skyhawks, the only Tier III (450 to 749 students) team in the Miles, against the unranked Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) Blues, who are 1-1 after losing 23-16 to the defending champion Strathcona Lords (2-0) Friday in St. Albert.
The Blues rejoined the Miles after going 1-7-1 overall last year as the seventh-place division Carr conference team and Tier II provincial north semifinalists.
The Blues returned to the Carr in 2015 after winning back-to-back undefeated Miles’ championships that included landslide victories against the Skyhawks by scores of 78-14 in 2013 and 56-0 in 2014.
It’s now a level playing field for both teams after Paul Kane formed its own football program in 2011 after serving as a feeder school for the St. Albert Catholic High School football program.
The Skyhawks and Blues also have no junior teams because of a lack of bodies. The Skyhawks ended their junior team in 2014 and this is the first year for the Blues without junior representation in the metro Edmonton league.
The Blues are coming off a tough loss that saw the Lords produce two TDs in the fourth quarter to lead 23-8 with about one minute remaining.
The Blues roared back to close the margin to a converted TD with 16 seconds to play but were unsuccessful with the onside kick.
A big and fast defensive line limited the Blues to only 20 rushing yards on 11 carries while making life miserable for quarterback Connor Guy, who completed 11 of 29 passes for 150 yards and two TDs and was picked off twice after going 15-for-25 for 175 yards and two TDs in the 24-7 win over the O’Leary Spartans (1-1).
Mo Tarrabain and Brennan Dreger were on the receiving end of TD passes of five and 15 yards, respectively, against the Lords.
Jake Strakowicz also grabbed five passes for 93 yards.
The Blues were once again stellar on defence as Ethan Brandsma had a huge game with 11 tackles, followed by Strakowicz with nine, Brett Price with seven and Ethan Wedman with six.
A field goal by the Lords made it 10-8 for the visitors in the last minute of the third quarter.
When asked how the Skyhawks are approaching the Blues, Johnson replied: “Just like any other game. Work hard at practice, watch film, see what they have, see what strengths they have and we’re just going to go out there on game day and battle,” said the 17-year-old who wants to go out with a bang in his final season of Skyhawks football.
“It’s exciting. I really want to make an impact on the team and I’m hoping I can get that done.”