The Bellerose Bulldogs and Paul Kane Blues will compete for championship honours on the home turf of the Edmonton Eskimos.
The metro Edmonton high school football finals will be staged at Commonwealth Stadium for the first time in the 39-year-history of the historic venue.
Friday’s doubleheader kicks off at 5 p.m. between Paul Kane (7-1) and the Strathcona Lords (8-0) in the division two Miles conference, followed by the division one Carr conference clash between Bellerose (6-2) and Harry Ainlay Titans (8-0) at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $5 and it’s free admission for children 12 and under.
“It means so much. We get to play at Commonwealth and we get to play for a championship. All the players and coaches are so proud,” said Matt Coogan, a versatile Grade 12 Bulldog after Friday’s emotional 38-29 victory over the Salisbury Sabres at Clarke Stadium.
Bellerose will huddle up without its marquee player, Quade Kozak, after the Grade 12 quarterback broke his leg in two places in the semifinal against Salisbury. Kozak was hurt on a designated QB run to the Salisbury seven with 1:29 left in the third quarter and Bellerose leading by two points. After a lengthy injury timeout, Cordel Callioux shifted from wideout to QB and scored on the next play and Ben VanLeeuwen’s conversion made it 36-27.
“It was pretty tragic. We were sadden when we saw his leg but we had to play for him and we knew Cordel would pull through,” Coogan said.
The Carr final is the first in Bellerose history after the birth of the St. Albert High Skyhawks ended the Bellerose-based St. Albert Storm program and the Bulldogs’ football team was formed in 1998.
The last metro championship for Bellerose was 2007 in the Miles.
Paul Kane is back in the Miles’ final for the first time since consecutive undefeated championship seasons in 2013 and 2014 after holding off the Skyhawks (5-3) in the 16-3 defensive struggle in Friday’s semifinal at Johnny Bright Park.
“It’s going to be fun playing in Commonwealth. It will be a good experience,” said Jake Strakowicz, a Grade 12 speedster who returned a punt from near the Paul Kane 50 for the opening touchdown 2:45 into the contest after the Blues stopped the Skyhawks on their first possession.
It’s been a triumphant return to the Miles for Paul Kane after winning only one game last year in the Carr and losing the Carr final the year before.
“We heard a lot of stuff at the start (of the season) that we weren’t going to be the best team and we were going to be kind of in the middle of the pack but from the start we knew that we had great athletes and we had a great coaching staff with us,” Strakowicz said.
Paul Kane and Bellerose lost their respective league games against the teams to beat in the finals. Strathcona downed the Blues 23-16 and Ainlay blasted the Bulldogs 44-14.
For the second year in a row, all three St. Albert football teams qualified for the provincial playdowns starting Nov. 11.
In Tier I (1,250-plus students), No. 4-ranked Bellerose will play the unranked George Thirsk Comets of Calgary or No. 6-ranked Salisbury in the north semifinals at Foote Field depending on the result against No. 2-ranked Ainlay in the Carr final.
“It’s more football for us and that’s what we love,” Coogan said.
In Tier II (750 to 1,249 students), No. 6-ranked Paul Kane travels to Grande Prairie to challenge the No. 1-ranked St. Joseph Celtics, last year’s Alberta Bowl finalists, in the north semfinals at 4 p.m.
“We’ll take it one game at a time. We’ll keep our mindset on the first one until it’s done and then we’ll move to the next one,” Strakowicz said.
In Tier III (450 to 749 students), the No. 4-ranked Skyhawks line up against the No. 6-ranked Peace Wapiti Academy Titans in the north semifinals at 1:30 p.m.
“This is for all the marbles now. It’s win or go home. The season is over if we lose now. We’ve got to come out and do our jobs,” said Danny Johnson of the Skyhawks, a Grade 12 linebacker and running back.
For more coverage of the Bellerose, Paul Kane and the Skyhawks football teams, see Wednesday’s edition of the Gazette.