The Paul Kane Blues embraced the pressure of winning the Battle of St. Albert without the feat of losing.
“Everyone was saying we were the team to lose but we showed them wrong. We knew what was going to happen,” proclaimed Ethan Wedman, the man of the match with three touchdown catches and two interceptions in Friday’s 43-30 statement game against the St. Albert High Skyhawks.
“There was a lot of pressure. The Gazette was doubting us,” added Wedman, in reference to the story proclaiming the Skyhawks as the real deal on the eve of the St. Albert showdown.
The Blues, unranked in Tier II (750 to 1,249 students), and the Skyhawks, ranked fifth in Tier III (450 to 749 students), are 2-1 as pool A teams in the division two Miles conference with three games remaining before the Oct. 23 quarter-finals kick-off.
“It was the biggest game of the season for us,” Wedman said. “No surprise in the game. We expected it all along. We knew they would come out fighting but we knew we could take them.
“We were moving the ball offensively and getting stops defensively. We had some close picks and had some that we caught so all in all it was very good.”
The second tour of duty in the Miles for the Blues after two years of highs and lows in the division one Carr conference set the stage for the first gridiron clash with the Skyhawks since 2014.
“We’re seen as the big bad team that went undefeated two years in a row in Miles and then went up to Carr and did OK the first year (as Carr finalists), then came back down (after one win last year) and I think there is still a target on our back for that and that’s fine. We’ll rise to the challenge,” said a defiant Rob Strecker, head coach of the Blues.
Previous tilts between the Blues and Skyhawks, former brothers in arms as one football team based at St. Albert Catholic High School before Paul Kane formed its own football program in 2011, were 78-14 in 2013 and 56-0 in 2014 for the Blues.
“I know these guys wanted payback and they’ve been playing very well the last few weeks so we knew we had to come to play,” said Strecker, who watched in disbelief as the Blues botched the opening kick-off and the short squibbler was returned by Robin Arguelles of the Skyhawks to the house at Larry Olexiuk Field.
“The guys just weren’t ready but I loved the way we responded after that,” said Strecker of the Blues bombarding the Skyhawks’ secondary for five touchdown strikes for a commanding 36-14 halftime advantage.
“We could’ve just kept going with the momentum in the second half but we only scored one touchdown so we kind of got a little stagnant there and we’ve definitely got to clean that up but overall I’m happy. We rebounded well from last week and that was a tough game,” Strecker said of the 23-16 loss to the pool B Strathcona Lords (3-0), the defending champions. “Now every week teams are gunning for us.”
Head coach Sam Johnson of the Skyhawks said the better team won.
“Rob is a good coach and he’s got a good team. They did their homework. They took advantage of some of the things that we were giving them,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel we got many breaks, a couple of passes go off our receivers’ hands and into their hands (for interceptions) and that’s a rarity that happens, but we’re not making any excuses. I give them full credit.
“They beat us fair and square but I tell you one thing, if they want to play again we’ll line up and play them.”
Down 7-0 after only a few ticks into the big game, the Blues responded with 20 unanswered points before quarter time. Jake Strakowicz was on the receiving end of Connor Guy passes of 80 yards on the team’s second possession and 38 yards with 19.9 seconds left in the quarter for TDs and Wedman’s 51-yard TD grab was set up by Strakowicz’s pick at the Paul Kane 42 on the Skyhawks’ offensive series. Alex Gamble also scored a two-point conversion.
After the TD by Wedman, Brenden Wagensveld was credited with recovering the short kick-off and the Blues wasted little time in finding the endzone with Strakowicz reeling in Guy’s offering.
The Skyhawks capitalized on their third possession of the half as Ewan Vanderheide hooked up with DeAmonte Overman for a 33-yard TD 1:39 into the second quarter and Koen Klinge kicked his second convert.
After the kick-off, the Blues drove the ball from their 40 as Guy completed passes of 28 yards to Wedman and 16 yards to Gamble, a pair of elusive runners like the silky-smooth Strakowicz, and Wedman capped off the drive with a 12-yard endzone catch. Strakowicz and Guy also combined on the two-point conversion.
Back on offence, the Skyhawks coughed up the ball and Shoya Lavoie recovered it near midfield. A couple of objectionable conduct flags and an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Skyhawks paved the way for Wedman’s 15-yard TD snag in the endzone, followed by Gamble’s two-point conversion with 2:40 left until halftime.
Guy was 17-for-28 overall with 360 yards while dissecting the Skyhawks’ defence.
“Connor played an amazing game. He put the balls in for us for easy receptions and easy touchdowns. Jake and I ran the ball down in the endzone because Connor put it in our hands,” said Wedman, who finished the first half with a tidy 106 yards on four receptions and the three TDs.
“Two of them were on the same play. We knew their halfbacks would be bailing out and their cornerbacks would be expecting the wheel route so we knew how to pick apart their defence and our quarterback put a perfect ball in,” said the Grade 11 slotback and safety.
The first half explosion rocked the Skyhawks.
“We came out firing and they weren’t able to recover from that. We kept the gas on the pedal the whole time,” said Wedman, 16.
“We did a great job in the first half of executing the game plan. We saw some things in film that we thought that we could take advantage of and we did,” Strecker added. “Then for whatever reason in the second half we just sort of got lazy. I think we got really complacent. Our tackling is still an issue for us, untimely penalties are still an issue for us and just a plain lack of execution so that has to get cleaned up or we’re not going to go very far.”
Johnson was surprised how the first half unfolded.
“We weren’t afraid of them defensively, we just stopped ourselves on most of our drives. Offensively we know they’re good, they’ve got some good players, and we thought we were prepared defensively,” Johnson said. “Maybe our guys were a little tight.”
Early in the third quarter, Wedman pulled off the first of his two picks to give the Blues the ball in Paul Kane territory. On the second interception, with 10:08 to play, Wedman suffered a left knee injury from “a very low tackle” in front of the Paul Kane bench.
“I knew their quarterback was going to be throwing it in my direction testing our coverage,” said Wedman, who spent the rest of the contest on the trainer’s table on the sideline where the post-game interview was conducted.
The last TD for the Blues was Guy’s five-yard scamper the long way while reversing direction in the backfield after Gamble was hauled down by a horse-collar tackle around the five-yard line on a third-down run. Rylan Baerg converted the TD to make it 43-14 with 10:40 remaining.
Gamble was another impressive offensive weapon with 91 yards on eight carries, plus seven receptions for 89 yards.
The Skyahwks made the score look respectable with TDs by Danny Johnson on a six-yard reception with 5:23 to go and Vanderheide’s three-yard run with 17.9 seconds on the clock.
Vanderheide also connected with Johnson and Jackson Ganton on two-point conversions.
Matt Swecera of the Skyhawks also picked off a pass late in the game.
“St. Albert High played well. They played hard. I thought they were going to fold the tent and they didn’t. They stayed in there and credit to them and Sam,” Strecker said.
The Skyhawks didn’t give up with the game a done deal at halftime.
“We came out and had a good second half albeit I know they were playing some backups and they were up a few points but the boys didn’t quit and that shows character. We’ve always said here in our program that football doesn’t build character it reveals it and I’m proud of our boys. We’ve just got to work on stopping them more and we got to work on scoring more,” Johnson said.
“You would rather lose one now than at the end of October in the playoffs or in (Tier III) provincials but that being said we have to go back to work and rededicate ourselves and come back out and play better.
“You know me I hate to lose any time but we didn’t play well enough to win today.”
Friday the Skyhawks huddle up against the O’Leary Spartans (2-1) at 5 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.
The Blues are back in action Thursday against the pool B St. Francis Xavier Rams (1-2) at 5 p.m. at Johnny Bright Park.
“It’s only uphill from here. We’re just going to keep getting better,” said Wedman, who is doubtful for the game with the injured knee.