The St. Albert High Skyhawks are pounding their chests with pride over the football season so far.
“We’ve got heart,” said Christian Pulis, a prime-time Grade 12 Skyhawk, gauging the pulse of the only Tier III team in the division two Miles conference on the eve of the playoffs. “We started off really well, we just had a little low point as there is for every football team every season, but we bounced back so I think the playoffs will go really well for us.”
The quarter-finals kick-off Monday for the Skyhawks, ranked third in pool A, against the McNally Tigers, second in pool B, at 7:30 p.m. at Emerald Hills Regional Park. Admission is $5.
Both teams are 4-2 but the Skyhawks (206 PF/128 PA) are winners of two in a row and McNally (123 PF/120 PA) is winless in two straight.
“They’ll be good but we’ll surprise them. They will underestimate us and we’ll win,” said Ewan Vanderheide, a confident Grade 10 quarterback and defensive end. “Hopefully everyone is as excited as much as I am and we’ll win.”
The winner tackles the pool A Paul Kane Blues (5-1) or pool B Leduc Tigers (2-4) Friday at 6 p.m. at Johnny Bright Park.
The final is Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.
The playoffs mark the prelude to the Tier III (450 to 749 students) provincial playdowns for the No. 4-ranked Skyhawks as the metro Edmonton reps against probably the No. 8-ranked Peace Wapiti Academy Titans of the Mighty Peace league as the host team for the Nov. 11 north semifinal.
The fourth Tier III north final in six years for the Skyhawks was the 61-0 rout by the Holy Rosary Raiders of Lloydminster in 2016.
“Our goal from day one is winning provincials and we’ll get there for sure,” Vanderheide said. “It’s all about getting there and we’re going to try our best to beat McNally and we’ll go from there.
“We’ve just got to play ball like we always do and we’ll win. That’s all that matters. It’s ball out and we’ll win games.”
The Skyhawks haven’t played McNally since last year’s season-opening 20-0 win while going 3-5 as the Miles’ semifinalists.
“Their quarterback, Sam Jones, is pretty good,” Pulis said. “We’ve scouted most of their players, we’ve just got to really prepare defensively. Our offence is clicking really well right now so we’re mostly focusing on defence but we’ll also tune up our offence and see what we can do better.”
Pulis pointed to the 57-20 win over the pool B Archbishop Jordan Scots (0-6) in week two of the schedule as a key turning point in the season.
“That really showed the change of tempo since they were scoring in the first half putting up points but once we got it in our heads that we can do this and we can stop them they didn’t score in the second half,” said the 2016 Miles’ all-star.
And the team’s worst game?
“That was O’Leary (42-14 loss). We didn’t come out prepared. We came out sloppy and it showed on the field and it showed in film and we really got torn apart. It wasn’t good. We could compete with them but we didn’t compete with them that day,” said Pulis of O’Leary (4-2), second in pool A.
There is still room for improvement for the Skyhawks to go deep into November.
“We need to get a little more dirty, like wrap up our tackles and work on the little things that are making big plays. Sometimes our DBs don’t read the right play, like what the call is, and they play the wrong coverage, stuff like that. We need to make sure we’re extremely mentally sharp. It’s all mental, right?” said Pulis, one of 14 Grade 12 players and 15 returnees on the roster.
“For a young team we did really well. I was surprised. For how many rookies we’ve got. We balled out and did our thing as a team. I have all the respect for our coaches for coaching us,” said Vanderheide, the team and playoff MVP of the 2016 bantam Sherwood Park Rams, the Tier 1 provincial champions.
“It was a good year with all the coaches and players there. We just had an excellent team. Since day one we all connected and we were a team. That’s all that matters and we just played ball,” said Vanderheide, the 2017 Football Alberta Bantam Bowl north team’s most outstanding player.
The former St. Albert Fury bantam grabbed the starting quarterback’s role on the Skyhawks with gusto.
“I’ve learned how to compose myself and just be a quarterback. I know I have the fundamentals, I have footwork, I have mechanics, I’ve just got to go out there and play ball,” Vanderheide, 15, a teammate of Jackson Ganton of the Skyhawks on the undefeated Alberta squad at the Football Canada U16 Western Challenge in July at Lethbridge.
“Kids are bigger and faster (in high school) but you adapt to it and play better and that’s all that matters. You practice and keep going. You get up for every day of football.”
The last game for the Skyhawks was a walk in the park against the Eastglen Blue Devils (0-6) Wednesday at Larry Olexiuk Field. All the points were scored in the first half of the 42-0 shutout and the second half was played with running time.
The Skyhawks scored right after the opening kick-off as Pulis sprinted 85 yards for the first of his three touchdowns in the first quarter.
On the first Eastglen series, a pass interference flag on Ryley Onyschuk’s interception wiped out the turnover.
An unnecessary roughness flag also killed Kyle Torok-Booth’s TD on a fumble return from around the Eastglen 35.
Vanderheide’s swing pass to Pulis resulted in a 23-yard catch and run TD and three minutes later he hit DeAmonte Overman in the endzone for 28-yard score.
A 50-yard pick-six by Pulis with 18.5 seconds left until quarter time completed the hat-trick.
The best of the bunch was the burst down field 49 seconds into the contest.
“I really like running the ball because my teammates help me so much. They give me the perfect blocks and the perfect opportunity and I give back to them by scoring,” said Pulis, 17.
Nicholas Romaniuk (13-yard TD catch) and Danny Johnson (four-yard TD) closed out the scoring in the second quarter and soccer player Koen Klinge converted all six TDs.
The game ended on Mason Mildenberger’s interception against a team that would have trouble beating the bantam St. Albert Palmer 49ers.