The St. Albert Palmer 49ers have the luxury of home-field advantage against the defending Tier I bantam champions in the Capital District Minor Football Association.
Today’s final against the undefeated Sherwood Park Rams kicks off at 12:30 p.m.
“It’s really a special moment to play the city finals at home against the strongest team that hasn’t lost and we’re ready to give them a loss,” said Jacob King, a Grade 9 quarterback and defensive back, prior to Wednesday’s practice in the snow.
“To play in St. Albert is a big deal because we’ve never actually played a city final in St. Albert but now we’ve got new change rooms so we can,” King added. “Our whole team is pumped. You can just feel the energy when we’re out practicing or when we’re in the change room. That’s what we’re all talking about.”
The winner advances to the Tier I provincials, unlike 2013 when the St. Albert Fury lot 53-24 to the Rams in the final but still qualified as the second CDMFA rep in the provincial semifinals.
The last St. Albert Minor Football Association bantam team to celebrate a provincial championship was the 49ers in Tier II in 2004.
The 49ers are also the second SAMFA team to reach the Tier 1 bantam final since the formation of the CDMFA in 1992 when they battle the Rams, who were also undefeated last season while winning their 12th CDMFA Tier I championship in the past 21 years and first provincial title since 2008.
“We’re going to be facing a good team,” said Grade 9 lineman Marshall Missins. “They have been a very good organization but I know that our team can bring it up to their level.”
The 49ers are 7-1 and the lone loss was 56-28 to the Rams (8-0) Oct. 7 in Sherwood Park. The halftime score was 42-14.
“They threw a lot of deep balls at us, that was mostly our weakness, and on the defensive line we kind of broke down there,” Missins said. “It’s just a couple of things we’ve got to work on and I know we’ll get that done during these last two practices (on Wednesday and Thursday).”
The 49ers kicked off the season with three shutouts and were 208-21 in points for/against in four wins before the humbling loss to the Rams.
“We started off strong. We were winning every game by blowouts because we were playing easier teams but when it came to a harder team we kind of slipped up a bit,” King said. “We handled our first loss not bad. We were kind of shook up at the start but we came back strong and we’re hoping to beat them this time at home on Saturday.”
The 49ers recovered from the beat-down to post victories of 59-7 against the Edmonton Black Raiders (2-5) and 28-17 against the Millwoods Grizzlies (5-3) to wrap up league play and 21-7 against the Edmonton Chargers (4-3) in the semifinals.
“It helped when we came together as one team and not try to be individuals and play the game all as one to compete with the other top teams,” King said.
Offensively, the 49ers distribute the ball around with the authority.
“When we’re firing on all cylinders and we work as one team and we get our blocks and we all commit it’s a force to be reckoned with,” King said. “Keeping it mixed up so the defence doesn’t know what’s happening is really working well. When they’re guessing what you’re going to do then you can throw anything at them and you’re going to gain yards and score more.”
The 49ers can also hang tough defensively.
“It’s also a force to be reckoned with. It takes us a couple of plays to read their offence and then after that we’re firing on all cylinders,” said Missins, a defensive end and offensive tackle. “Our corners and halfbacks are very strong but I think our linemen and linebackers are the strongest.”
The senior varsity 49ers are basically last year’s Fury’s team without the same record. The 2016 Fury, a junior varsity team, finished 0-8 as Tier III semifinalists.
“The difference is all of us have grown up as a team. We’ve grown up together since our first year as bantams,” said King, 13. “It’s a whole new level like from peewee to bantam. Kids grow and they’re way bigger and it’s higher intensity.
“Last year we didn’t win a game at all and then this year winning and going to the city final is a big, big difference. After last year all of our team was down and didn’t know if they wanted to come back but it’s life-changing when you see a team that didn’t win a game come back this year and go into the city final at home. All of our kids are more into football and they’re more energized to play and they actually want to be here because we’re all together as one team.”
A good chunk of the 49ers like King and Missins, a pair of Grade 9 Lorne Akins students, have big-game playoff experience on their resumes that include winning back-to-back CDMFA Tier II finals with the peewee St. Albert Riders and at provincials were the Tier II finalists in 2014 and champions in 2015, which was the fourth provincial title in SAMFA history and the first since 2006 by the peewee Tier I Riders.
“The coaches always tried to keep the kids together because as they move up they gained friendships together as they get older, like our team. We’re tight with everyone because that’s just how good teams click,” said Missins, 14.
The Colts and Riders are the St. Albert peewee teams competing in today’s CDMFA finals at Fuhr Sports Park.
Kickoff times are 10 p.m. between the junior varsity Colts (4-3) and Edmonton Seahawks (6-0-1) in Tier III and 3 p.m. between the senior varsity Riders (3-5) and Millwoods Grizzlies (5-3) in Tier II.
The Tier II peewee champion advances to provincials.
In league play, the Seahawks beat the Colts 39-14 in the Sept. 16 season opener and 35-0 Oct. 9 and the Grizzles defeated the Riders 15-6 Oct. 22.
Last weekend’s semifinal scores were 14-0 for the Colts, a team of first-year peewees, against the West Edmonton Raiders (0-6-1) and 27-14 for the Riders against the Edmonton Mustangs (3-5) in Spruce Grove.
The Riders were led by Olaseni Adekunle’s two touchdowns, including a 70-yard romp on the opening play of the game, Justyn Baniak added a TD on a tough run through traffic and quarterback Noah Mickleborough also scored from the five.
THIRD DOWN: Also on tap today at Larry Olexiuk Field are the CDMFA bantam finals in Tier III at 10 a.m., Tier II at 3 p.m. and Tier IV at 5:30p.m.
The Fury (1-5) finished the season as Tier IV bantam semifinals after falling 38-33 to the Wetaskiwin Warriors (3-4) last weekend in Spruce Grove.
Max Taylor, who ran back the opening kick-off for the first of his two TDs in the first half, quarterback Dominic LeClercq and strong defensive play by Will Mah and Ty Harrison kept in the Fury in the game.
The Warriors won the regular-season meeting against the Fury 40-21 Oct. 1.