The Paul Kane Blues went out with a bang in their last rugby match of the year.
The third win in a row after kicking off league play with two losses was Wednesday’s 15-0 decision against the St. Albert Skyhawks in the metro Edmonton city conference final at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
“We got down but then we got back up and here we are again,” said Aaron Wiecker, a Grade 12 Paul Kane winger who played in last year’s 46-14 loss to the Bellerose Bulldogs in the city final. “It’s a great feeling to win it. It’s a completely different experience from last year when we lost.”
The Blues and Skyhawks were slotted in the city playoff bracket after finishing last in their respective pools.
“We’ve improved a lot. At first we weren’t that good but once we learned from our mistakes and gained more experience, we got back on track,” Wiecker said.
In the semifinals the Blues blasted the winless Archbishop Jordan Scots 43-0 and the Skyhawks knocked off the Salisbury Sabres 20-5 for their first win after three losses.
“We started this year with a bunch of new guys but we pulled through, especially in our game against Salisbury. They’re a strong team. They had a great record [2-0-1 going into the playoffs] and we pulled off the win,” said Nathan Gies, the Skyhawks’ captain. “This game was just unfortunate the way it happened. We wanted it so bad, it was just little mistakes we made that ended up costing us.”
After a determined defensive stand in the opening minutes against the jacked-up Skyhawks, the Blues methodically pushed their way towards the other end of the field and eventually scored on Mike Kowalczyk’s power move in the 11th minute.
“It was an equal game up until the first try,” Kowalczyk said. “Once we got that try, it got more and more intense for both teams and we ended up taking it.”
The rookie Grade 12 prop steamrolled his way through the Skyhawks with a 10-metre burst of extra effort to break the try line while tackled from behind.
“I got the ball out of a ruck, got low and just went for it. I got wrapped up but I kind of turned away and put it down,” he said.
The Blues kept pressuring for points but fumbled a try away early in the second quarter, when Jesse Kushneryk was tattooed by the Skyhawks and turned the ball over in front of the five-metre line.
The Skyhawks eventually reversed their poor field position with Devon Gunputrav spearheading the attack on the ground and in the air. Despite operating from prime scoring territory, the Skyhawks lacked finish and gave up the ball while being pushed back towards Paul Kane’s 22-metre line. The Blues quickly went back into attack mode. After Kushneryk was hauled down on a promising run, the Blues busted loose with a galloping run by Wiecker for a try under the posts.
“Our eight-man, Brett Wells, did a fake pass then spun it out wide to me and I just turned on the jets and didn’t stop,” said Wiecker, 18.
The noted track and field runner went a long way across the field to evade tacklers, then turned the corner and motored down the touchline in front of a cheering throng of Paul Kane supporters.
“The adrenaline was rushing for sure. I saw space and I went for it. That’s when I knew I had it,” Wiecker said.
The Skyhawks escaped the first half down by only 10. Leading up to halftime, they dodged a bullet with some gritty defence while their backs were pinned against the try line. Stephan Cain also made a try-saving tackle to close out the first half.
“At the half we really realized that it wasn’t going well and we needed to pick up the pressure,” Gies said. “We definitely got our passing down better. That’s what we’ve been working on all year.”
Thirty seconds into the third quarter, the Blues capitalized on some sloppy play by the Skyhawks fielding the kickoff and Grade 12 flanker Ian Morrison made them pay the price with a robust dash into the try area.
The Skyhawks battled back with an intense drive and almost scored on a couple of penalties from outside the five-metre line with crash balls. Kyle Avison led the charge going into contact against Paul Kane’s defensive fortress. The second attempt by the Skyhawks was held up in the try area.
“It was rough because they were hitting us on pace and we were hitting them back on pace,” Wiecker said. “Defensively all game we tried to spread it across because they were lining up on both sides when they got tackled and we followed them and marked a man.
“We just stuck to basics, that’s all we did really.”
The rest of the tilt was mainly staged between the 22-metre lines with the odd offensive chance for both sides.
“In the second half we were giving it to them but we just weren’t able to get those tries,” Gies said. “We were just so close. We played our hearts out but I guess it just wasn’t enough.”
Kowalczyk, 18, stressed the game was closer than the score indicated.
“We didn’t come into this cocky. SACHS is a very good team. They have a lot of good boys. They’re not the biggest team player-wise but they really came together today against us,” he said. “It really was a pretty even game.”
The Blues also beat the Skyhawks 15-10 in the last game before the playoffs.
“I don’t think we did anything different today compared to that game,” Kowalczyk said. “We basically held them on the line and won our scrums and rucks and lineouts and came out with the win.”
The St. Albert showdown was loaded with several nasty collisions that were painful to watch. Evan Warmington, the Skyhawks’ man of the match against Salisbury, with a scoring run covering three-quarters of the field, left the game late in the first half after he was plastered along the touchline.
“As you could see, we had a lot of injuries today,” said Gies of the physical affair that left players on both teams battered and bruised.
While the Blues celebrated their seventh senior boys’ metro championship in school history, and the first since winning premier in 2004, the Skyhawks (1-4) turned their attention to Monday’s tier II (3A schools) playoff to determine the metro rep at provincials next weekend in Calgary. Game time against the Beaumont Bandits (3-1) is 4:45 p.m. in Sherwood Park.
“We definitely have more incentive now to win it. We want to put it to them,” said Gies, 16, a Grade 11 standout who kicked one penalty and converted a try against Salisbury. “We’re not coming to lose. We want to win it. We want to go to provincials.”