Skyhawks fall in final

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Commonwealth Stadium – Losing the championship final by 15 points after shutting out the same team by 44 in league play left the St. Albert High Skyhawks heartbroken Thursday night.

“It’s disappointing. It’s a shock,” said a teary-eyed Kyle Torok-Both, as the rest of the emotional Skyhawks filed out of the dressing room after a lengthy soul-searching session with head coach Sam Johnson over the 27-12 loss to the Archbishop Jordan Scots.

“We just didn’t execute. We didn’t do what we had to do and the result is the result,” said Torok-Both, a Grade 12 quarterback/cornerback.

At field level, following the Skyhawks’ traditional post-game team prayer, Johnson was surprisingly upbeat compared to his mood later inside the dressing room and the door open for everyone’s listening pleasure in the hallway.

“I’m proud of our boys. We played hard. We had a great season,” said Johnson of the 7-2 Skyhawks in the division two Miles conference. “You can’t win them all.”

The metro Edmonton league schedule was the prelude to the main event for the Skyhawks in the Tier III (450 to 749 students) provincial playdowns.

“We’ve got to go and push hard for provincials now and play even better,” Torok-Both said. “(This loss is) going to give us the motivation to work harder and harder every practice so we can go out with a bang in provincials and get the provincial title.”

The No. 3-ranked Skyhawks host the north semifinal next Saturday against the Mighty Peace league qualifier – No. 8-ranked Peace Wapiti Academy Titans of Grande Prairie or No. 10-ranked Whitecourt Cats. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.

“We’ll be ready to go,” Johnson said. “The St. Albert boys you’ve never had to look for them in a fight. They were right there again today and we’ll be there again next week.

“We’ll rest our bumps and bruises, we’ll watch our film and we’ll see where we need to get better and we’ll try and improve those.”

The winner hosts the No. 2-ranked Holy Rosary Raiders of Lloydminster or the No. 5-ranked Sylvan Lake Lakers in the Nov. 17 north final.

The Alberta Bowl championship is Nov. 24 in Fort McMurray.

The Scots (8-1) are also competing in the Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) playdowns as the No. 8-ranked team in the province after the Sherwood Park squad’s seventh win in a row since losing 44-0 to the Skyhawks in week two of the league schedule.

“They’re a good team. They were 7-1 (before the final) for a reason, just like we were,” Johnson said.

The Skyhawks trailed 7-6 after the first quarter but ended the first half on top at 12-7.

The Scots rallied to make it 14-12 in the third quarter and 20-12 with 6:42 remaining before closing out the scoring with a converted touchdown with 2:20 to go.

On the ensuing kickoff after the Scots made it 27-12, the Skyhawks huddled up at their 40 and on first down Torok-Both gained 37 yards.

On third and nine at the 32, Ethan Katicic replaced Torok-Both, who was hobbling around the field after being tangled up in a ball of tacklers two plays earlier, and the backup QB hit Hunter Hoffman for a first down at the 19.

On second down, an unnecessary roughing penalty nullified an interception by the Scots around the five and the Skyhawks lined up first and goal at the four. An offside penalty against the Scots put the ball at the two, but a quarterback sack pushed the Skyhawks back to the 11. A catch by Matt Swecera at the six was followed by Torok-Both’s pass attempt on third down that was broken up around the goal line with 32 seconds to play.

“It’s anybody’s ball game until the last minute and a half,” Johnson said. “Full credit to them.”

The Scots opened the scoring on their second possession as quarterback Simon Francescut threatened to take off with the ball while scrambling in the pocket before locating Loclen Cerra for the 45 catch-and-run TD.

The Skyhawks replied with a 66-yard drive, highlighted by a great catch by Swecera near the sideline for the first down at the Scots’ 54 and the Grade 11 running back/linebacker capped off the drive with a determined run covering 42 yards with 57 seconds to go in the quarter. A snafu on the conversion left the Scots still in the lead.

In the second quarter, a high snap botched a 25-yard field goal attempt by the Scots and the Skyhawks took over possession at their 36. Quality runs by Torok-Both, Justin Stoneham and Logan Lysohirka set the stage for Torok-Both’s highlight-reel 30-yard TD as he escaped a couple of tacklers in the backfield by zigzagging right to left through the defence before diving over the goal line by the corner pylon with 3:59 remaining. The two-point conversion play was unsuccessful.

“I just take what the defence gives me and find holes and run hard,” Torok-Both said.

The 12-7 lead stayed intact before the break as a wicked hit by Ellijah Webonga jarred the ball loose from Francescut and Gabriel Forbes recovered the fumble at the Skyhawks’ 44 with 19 seconds on the clock.

The Scots set the tone for victory by forcing the Skyhawks to go two and out to start the second half and then on their first possession of the third quarter from midfield kept grinding out the yards behind power runner Sean Bleiken, the Miles conference MVP. The Skyhawks’ nominee for the MVP award was Jackson Ganton, a remarkable Grade 11 slotback/defensive back who sat out his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury.

The lengthy drive by the Scots ended with a three-yard TD by Seun Ogundiya with 4:20 left before quarter time and the conversion put the Scots ahead to stay.

In the fourth quarter, the Scots missed a 30-yard field goal attempt as the Skyhawks ran the ball out of the end zone. However,  a two and out from the 20 forced the Skyhawks to punt and the Scots quickly advanced the ball into excellent field position, culminating in Bleiken’s two-yard TD bust to lead by eight.

After the kickoff, Katicic filled in for Torok-Both as the Skyhawks went two and out. Torok-Both has been handling the QB duties since Ewan Vanderheide, who was last year’s starter, was sidelined early in the season.

Back on offence, the Scots marched from their 52 with Bleiken leading the charge and his seven-yard TD sealed the deal.

“We just didn’t work hard enough in the second half and they took advantage of that and scored a few touchdowns on us. Just not enough effort,” said Torok-Both, 17.

As for the turning point in the final, “They say there are five plays that changes a game. Who knows what those five are? We’ll have to go back and look at film, but our boys were in it fighting right to the end,” said Johnson.

The 2017 Metro Athletics Coach of the Year in the Miles shrugged off a suggestion that Bleiken was the difference in the second half.

“We’ve had tough running backs before,” Johnson said. “We didn’t tackle very well. We didn’t play very well at the quarterback position and in a championship game with good teams you’ve got to play almost error-free football to stay in it and we didn’t do that.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.