The rampaging St. Albert Riders continue along the path of destruction towards a championship season.
The only undefeated peewee team in the Susan Morgan division of the Capital District Minor Football Association is the playoff favourite against the Edmonton Chargers in Sunday’s Tier I title match. Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. at Fuhr Sports Park in Spruce Grove.
The winner advances to the Football Alberta Tier I final against the Calgary Storm or Calgary Wildcats next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Taurus Field in Fort Saskatchewan.
“We’re the team to beat so we don’t want to lose and have to stop playing football for this year,” said Adam Kociuba, 12, during a water break at Tuesday’s practice at Larry Olexiuk Field. “There is definitely a lot of pressure because we want to continue the streak and go 11-0 for the provincial championship.”
The only St. Albert team to win Tier I provincials as the CDMFA champion was the 2006 peewee Riders, 11-6 over the Calgary Bulldogs at Clarke Stadium.
“At the beginning of the season, one of our young coaches (Alex Lesko) talked about goals and his comment to the boys was, number one, to play and win (first place in) Tier I. We did that. Number two, his goal was to make the Tier I city championship and then we’ll see if his third goal comes to fruition, which would obviously be the provincial game to represent the north,” said head coach Ryan Hill.
The senior varsity Riders (9-0) have blown away teams with a hurricane force offensively of 45.5 points per win and defensively are averaging a microscopic 3.7 points against while posting five shutouts.
“The team has been doing really good as far as executing the plays and knowing what they’re doing and at what time we have to be doing them at,” said Kociuba, a right guard and backup defensive lineman.
“On offence, the line is the most important part because we have to know what we’re doing, how to do it and where the ball is going because we clear up a path for the guy who is running the ball and that’s how we score our touchdowns,” said the Vincent J. Maloney student. “The defence has to execute plays perfectly, too, so you can do your job.”
The roster of 23 Riders are Grade 7 students, except for James Carr who is in Grade 6.
Several Riders have been together for three years, while Alex Braden, James Hill, Matty LaPierre and Josh Mah played as underagers for the atom St. Albert Buccaneers.
“It’s a great group of kids and they’re dedicated and quite honestly so is our group of coaches. A lot of the coaches have been together for five years now and we also have a great group of young coaches that have played high level div one football in St. Albert for various high schools and some that have gone on past high school,” said Hill, the 1994 MVP of the St. Albert Storm.
“We’re also fortunate to have a great group of athletes and a lot of these kids are multi-sport athletes. They’re all committed to football and this year, they’ve really put that first and you see that out here tonight. It’s a small team, but they all show up to practice and they practice hard. We’re certainly serious with them as coaches but we do have fun,” Hill added.
The third-place Chargers (6-3) are no slouches either as winners of six in a row after losing three straight, and the last setback was 35-14 to the Riders on Sept. 15.
“They’re a good team,” Kociuba said. “But we know what we’re doing and we should win.”
The Chargers are averaging 36.7 points for and 14.1 against after upending the second-place Millwoods Grizzlies (7-2) in the Tier I semifinals 24-20.
“Fans can expect a close game because the Chargers are a heck of a good team,” Hill said. “They had a slow start, but the back half of the season they have come alive. They play great as a team. They’re disciplined. They know what they’re doing on the football field. They’re well coached. They’re going to be a difficult team to play and we just hope we play better than them and we come out on top.
“It’s certainly our most challenging game of the year.”
The Riders wasted no time rolling over the fourth-place Sherwood Park Rams (5-4) in the Tier I semifinals as the St. Albert powerhouse led by 21 points at halftime en route to the 46-0 result.
On the first play from scrimmage, James Hill’s 70-yard TD quarterback run was called back because of a penalty for no end.
Not to be deterred, the Raiders scored on their next drive as Hill reached the end zone.
Mah produced two TDs in the second quarter with a run of 30-plus yards and a 15-yard reception from Hill.
Braden connected on all three convert attempts, which are two points in peewee.
The domination continued in the second half as Hill added rushing TDs of two and 60 yards and Mah scored his third of the game on a 25-yard dash set-up by linebacker Ryker Latimer’s interception.
Mah and Hill combined for more than 350 rushing yards overall.
Beating teams from storied minor football programs like the Rams shows how strong the Riders really are at the highest level of peewee.
“For the last couple of years this group has been the young team, the junior (varsity) team – that’s div four and div three – so when you go up and start playing the Chargers and you throw the Rams in there, those programs are extremely serious, more so than what I ever imagined actually playing up in div one at a peewee level. You expected that when you get into high school ball,” Hill said.