Clarke Park – The playoff forecast for the St. Albert Storm is promising after the midget spring league team shut out the Parkland Outlaws.
“If we can get another win we’ll go into the playoffs with three in a row and we’ll see where we go from there,” two-way lineman Joe Ur said after Sunday’s 25-point margin of victory. “It was a good overall effort by the whole team. First half, our offence was a little bit slow but defence picked it up. Second half everything started to come together.”
With one game to go before the playoffs, the 2-2-1 Storm haven’t looked this strong since their inaugural 4-3 season as the 2006 tier I finalists. Despite a rash of injuries to key starters on both sides of the ball, the team of Grade 9, 10 and 11 players already exceeded last year’s 1-4 record in the regular season. The Storm finished 3-4 as tier III champions.
“The first few games were a little slow. We were pretty hampered by injuries,” said Ur, a Grade 11 Bellerose Bulldog and second-year Storm contributor. “We’re slowly building momentum for the playoffs with these wins.”
If not for the injury bug and a 14-14 tie in the season opener against the Edmonton Mustangs (3-0-1), a game the Storm should have won, they would be in contention for tier I honours instead of sitting in the middle of the standings. Unlike previous playoff formats, the top two teams challenge for the league title. The next two teams battle for the tier II crown. The tier III trophy is up for grabs among the remaining teams.
“With one playoff game the regular season means a lot,” said head coach Chad Hill. “We’re definitely looking better than we did before. In this game we used a lot of the same personnel we’ve had the last couple of weeks and the kids keep getting better and better. They’re playing with more confidence and that makes a huge difference.”
On defence the Storm whipped up two touchdowns off turnovers. Parkland (1-3) was picked off three times and fumbled the ball twice.
“To pitch a shutout and get two touchdowns was pretty good,” said Ur, who gobbled up a fumble in the fourth quarter at weak-side linebacker. “There were a couple of mental mistakes but it was still a good effort.”
The first TD was a fumble recovery by linebacker Devin Kondro in the last minute of the opening quarter.
“We had a blitz going and everyone crashed in and the ball somehow got knocked out. It fell into his hands and he was in the endzone,” Ur said.
Early in the second quarter, Tayler White hooked up with Spencer Duff on a slick sideline completion at the Parkland 50 but two plays later the Storm quarterback was picked off at the 22.
After losing yards, Parkland went two-and-out and punted but the Storm dropped the ball and the Outlaws got it at their 40. After another two-and-out by Parkland, the Storm gave the pigskin away again receiving the punt and the Outlaws took over at their 52. A few plays later, and Parkland looking at third down and 11 at the St. Albert 41, right cornerback Grayson Baker reeled in an easy interception at the 20 and returned it 30 yards. However, the Storm were flagged for roughing the passer. Back on offence, on second down at the 21, quarterback Cam Kolasa was picked off by left cornerback Nathan Anderson near the 15 and he flew down the sideline untouched. His TD with 1:42 left until halftime to put the Storm up by 12.
After the kick off, on second down and 14 at the Parkland 23, Kolasa was dragged down from behind by Ur’s horse-collar tackle. The 15-yard penalty gave the Outlaws a first down at their 37. They put together a couple of first downs, but the drive ended when a leaping White snatched a pass out of the crowd from his safety position at the Storm 23 with 6.8 seconds left in the half.
“We came up with some big defensive plays, but that touchdown off an interception was really good,” said Ur, 17, who split time at left and right tackle on offence as one of several players seeing double duty.
In the third quarter, the Storm marched into field-goal range as Kondro pounded the Outlaws running and catching the ball out of the backfield. White’s 20-yard attempt was blocked and the Outlaws pounced on the ball at their 32.
Les than two minutes later, an opportunistic Nathan Mitchell snagged a fumble at the Parkland 49 after the fullback coughed it up off his leg on the exchange.
The third TD, a splendid 16-yard reception in the endzone by Josh Wilkie three minutes into the fourth quarter was set up by runs of eight yards by Kondro and 10 yards by Duff. An alert fumble recovery by Ur at the Parkland 34 gave the offence great field position to work from.
“Joe Ur was a demon out there today. He was everywhere,” Hill said.
On the next Parkland possession, Brandon Jennings pulled off an interception in scoring territory at the 39. A great throw under pressure by White was snatched by Duff at the six. On third and goal the elusive White slithered in from the six with 6:15 to play.
“In the second half the offence really got it going and took some of the pressure off the defence,” Hill said. “It’s our best game since the Mustangs on defence, definitely. Defence came up big when it had to. They bent but they didn’t break. Kieran Fraser was solid in the middle. Right now he is the anchor for the team.”
Hill was impressed by how the Grade 9s and 10s have filled major gaps in the line-up in place of the veteran core of injured Grade 11s.
“These young guys are getting a little more experience and confidence. They’ve hit major strides and if nothing else they had a chance to develop and get a lot better for their high school teams in the fall,” Hill said. “We moved Nathan Mitchell to strong side linebacker from the defensive backs and he is playing phenomenal. Nathan Anderson at corner is looking fantastic right now. Brad Hoddinott, a Grade 9 kid, is working his butt off. Tayler White has shown a lot of improvement at quarterback. He’s continued on right from his high school season [with Bellerose]. Wilkie is a good wide receiver too. He’s improved a whole lot this year.”
After being outscored 88-31 in back-to-back losses, the offence tacked 55 points on the board the previous week against the winless Millwoods Grizzlies.
“The offence is coming together. We have the big three in Kondro, [Grayson] Baker and Duff to get the ball to. Our O-line isn’t most biggest or the most powerful but it does enough to get the job done,” Hill said.
The Storm huddles up next Wednesday against the Sherwood Park Wolverines (1-2). Kickoff is 8 p.m. at Foote Field. Admission is $5.