Clarke Stadium – The Paul Kane Blues equalled last year’s win total in Thursday’s return to division two Miles conference football.
The Blues battled through penalties, missed assignments and opportunities gone awry to outlast the O’Leary Spartans 24-7.
“It means a lot to us. It’s a good start but we’ve got to improve on a lot of stuff that’s for sure,” said Jake Strakowicz, a Grade 12 offensive dynamo who caught two touchdown passes and threw for a two-point conversion.
The Blues are back in the Miles after going 1-7-1 overall last year as the seventh-place team in the division one Carr conference and Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) provincial north semifinalists.
“I’m happy to have a win under our belt and now we can build off that,” said Grade 11 lineman Ethan Brandsma, one of eight returnees on the 34-man senior roster that includes a dozen Grade 12s. “We have a lot of improvement to do but once we clean up our act then we’re going to do just fine and we’re going to have a great season.”
The metro Edmonton pool A opener was at times as sloppy as the rainstorm that drenched the proceedings in the first half.
“It was a struggle of a match. We really could’ve done so much better. I feel like our opponent wasn’t as strong. They didn’t give us all they had and we didn’t give them all that we had. It wasn’t our strongest game,” Brandsma said.
The Blues opened the season with a 36-0 exhibition decision against the Ardrossan Bisons, 5-3-1 in 2016 as the Miles’ finalists and Tier IV (449 or less students) provincial north semifinalists before tacking O’Leary, 3-4 in the Miles last year.
Alex Gamble, an impressive weapon on offence after last year’s successful stint with the junior team which is now no longer part of the Paul Kane football program, put the Blues on the scoreboard by returning a fumble from around the O’Leary 50 into the endzone and latched onto a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Connor Guy with 4:39 left in the first quarter.
The Blues were poised to add to the lead on a drive that started late in the quarter from their 47 as Guy scrambled for copious amounts of yardage but a fumble on third down gave O’Leary the ball at its 16 early in the second quarter.
With under four minutes to go before halftime, a fake punt snafu by the Blues in O’Leary territory was followed by an interception by Brett Price for a hefty gain to the 10. On second and goal, Strakowicz pulled off a diving grab past the goal line with 2:48 remaining and on the two-point conversion connected with Guy as the Blues went up 16-0.
On first down after the ensuing kick-off, O’Leary ran the ball to pay dirt for a 63-yard score and the conversion kick was good.
The second half was littered with flags and failed third down conversions by both teams.
In the last minute of the third quarter, a penalty wiped out an 11-yard TD run by O’Leary and on the first play of the fourth quarter a third down pass fell incomplete by the erratic Spartans and the Blues huddled up at their five.
“That was a good stop. That could’ve been a touchdown that changed the game,” said Brandsma, 16, a solid defensive end and left tackle.
From the five, the Blues drove the field with the help of a roughing the passer flag on an O’Leary interception and the penalty moved the ball to the 31 of the Spartans. Three plays later, on first down at the 20, Strakowicz reeled in a screen pass, undressed a defender and scooted into the corner of the endzone with 6:43 to play. Gamble’s two-point conversion reception closed out the scoring.
“Their line was coming hard and the only way that we could get past that was use their aggressiveness against them by doing that screen because as soon as they came up-field I was good on the sideline because all of them were back past our line of scrimmage,” said Strakowicz of his second TD of the game. “Both were good play calls and it comes from our systems.”
Strakowicz, 17, summed up the victory, which was a moral booster for the rebuilding Blues.
“We did persevere for sure. We had good contain on defence, which we kind of lacked last year. We had a good line and good blocking up front. We just got to get better on the edges,” said the sleek slotback/wideout and defensive back who attended an elite training camp with the Alberta U17 team in Maui this summer. “Our offence did really well in the second half and our defence did great in the first. We just had a couple of minor mistakes that can be fixed throughout the season.”
THIRD DOWN: The next league game is Friday against the pool B Strathcona Lords, the defending champions. Kickoff is 5 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.
Also looming large on the horizon is the St. Albert High Skyhawks on Sept. 29 at 5 p.m.
The Skyhawks are coming off a 21-9 win in Ardrossan and Friday’s kick-off time against the Archbishop Jordan Scots is 7:30 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.