Sturgeon too good to be true

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A Cinderella season continues for the Sturgeon Spirits.

The first-year football team is courting a metro Edmonton championship in Thursday’s date with the Ardrossan Bisons.

The division three Gilfillan conference final kicks off at 5 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.

“This is insane actually. No one really expects a first-year team to do good, let alone make playoffs and then go to the championship game like us,” said Nathan Brake, a super-sleek Grade 12 slotback and linebacker.

In week nine of the Football Alberta rankings, Sturgeon is No. 7 in Tier III (450 to 749 students) and Ardrossan is No. 3 in Tier IV (449 or less students).

“We’ve definitely got something to show,” Brake said. “We’ve just got to play our game and we’ll win if we do that.”

Sturgeon is 6-1 in exhibition, regular season and playoff games against Gilfillan teams despite more than half of its roster consisting of football newbies.

“A lot led up to this. We put a lot of work into this. We earned it and I’m excited that we’re in the final,” said Chase Kobza, an impact Grade 12 slotback and defensive back.

Sturgeon is led by 12 players who huddled up with the junior or senior Bellerose Bulldogs last year and some of them like Kobza and Brake experienced the thrill of competing for a championship in the 2017 division one Carr conference final between the senior Bulldogs and Harry Ainlay Titans at the home of the Edmonton Eskimos.

“The environment at Commonwealth with that huge stadium and just knowing all the people that have played there, it’s really cool,” Brake said.

“It’s going to be great. It’s going to be emotional. I’m excited for it,” Kobza added.

Sturgeon rolls into the final as the winner of five in a row after losing the season opener to Ardrossan 33-28 Sept. 13 at Larry Olexiuk Field.

“They’re a really good team. They’re solid overall. They’re going to be a challenge,” said Kobza of Ardrossan, 6-0 in league play. “They got a good running back in Keon (Nurse) but we’re putting the work in and we’re going to be ready for them.”

The last four wins by Ardrossan were by shutouts, including Thursday’s 47-0 semifinal against the Holy Trinity Trojans (2-5).

“They’ve got a lot of really good players and a lot of really good plays drawn up but we’ve got some good players, too, and some good coaching so it will be a pretty good game,” Brake said.

Sturgeon’s regular-season debut was the back-and-forth affair with Ardrossan that ended with the Bisons scoring the game-winning touchdown in the last minute of play after Zach Froese’s quarterback sneak put the Spirits on top 28-25 late in the game.

Ardrossan’s final drive was kept alive by an opportunistic acrobatic catch off a tipped pass in the secondary on a third-and-five play from the Sturgeon 40.

The halftime score was 22-12 for Sturgeon.

“We’re a better team overall since then. Our chemistry is way better. Everybody is a little bit smarter football-wise. Everybody knows what they’re doing. Everybody knows their job,” Kobza said.

Sturgeon’s last game was the 37-7 outcome against the Beaumont Bandits (4-3) in Thursday’s semifinal at Clarke Stadium that was too close to call at halftime with the Spirits in front 14-7.

“It was a hard game. In the first half, they put up a good fight and in the second half, we had to give our head a shake and realize that this is a game we need to play better in so we can earn our spot in the final,” said Kobza, 18.

On the opening drive, Froese connected with Will Campbell for a six-yard TD strike along the sideline.

The rest of the first quarter featured a Beaumont drive aided by flags and miscues, including Kolby Phillips’ interception that was called back for a defensive lineman lining up offside.

In the second quarter, Colten Brenneis rumbled 60 yards to set up Brake’s two-yard jet sweep for the team’s second TD.

Beaumont replied on its next possession with a long pass before finishing off the drive with a TD run.

The first half ended with a dropped ball in the end zone by Sturgeon.

On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Brake picked off an intended swing pass to the running back and scooted 40 yards for the TSN turning-point TD.

“Our defence was prepped for it (after seeing it on film) and I just did my job,” Brake said. “I don’t think I ever ran that fast. I really wanted to get into that end zone.”

Froese added a chip shot through the posts for a rare Sturgeon field goal after his 50-yard TD run was called back because of holding and a one-yard plunge was nullified for illegal procedure as a teammate in the backfield helped push him over the goal line.

Froese eventually scored a rushing TD in the fourth quarter.

After an interception by Marc LeBlanc, Sturgeon closed out the scoring with a 19-yard jet sweep by Kobza.

“It was a pretty tight game to start the third quarter, but after that we took over the game,” said Brake, 17.

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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.