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November 10, 2017

WHSFL | Crusaders, Raiders Crowned

ANAVETS BOWL

The St. Paul’s Crusaders entered the 2017 season with a great deal of uncertainty.

The defending Winnipeg High School Football League AAA champions had just 11 returning faces from last season’s team and were without a bonafide starting quarterback.

Plenty of questions loomed.

But much like in years past, the Crusaders were up to the task. Led by a  commanding defensive line, strong run game and an impressive crop of ‘AA’ players from last year, they rolled to yet another undefeated season capped off with a 35-0 victory over the Dakota Lancers in the 2017 ANAVETS Bowl.

With the win, St. Paul’s improved their record to 68-2 over the past seven years with their only two losses coming in championship games in 2014 and 2015.

“Some of us played ‘AA’ last year, so we’ve been together before,” said Grade 11 pivot Brody Lawson, named the game’s MVP. “Being at a school like this, guys are just family.

“We just pushed through it, everybody bonded and we came together as a team and did what we had to do.”

The Crusaders dominated every facet of the contest, scoring on their first two drives of the game, and not looking back. Lawson was top notch, delivering accurate balls on multiple occasions to receivers Noah Dornn and Michael O’Shea – each of whom had a touchdown reception in the first half. Lawson ended the contest going 12-of-16 for 125 yards and three scores.

Running back Nic Peters rounded out the scoring with a one yard plunge as the top seeded Crusaders entered halftime up 19-0.

Defensively, St. Paul’s forced two first-half Lancers turnovers – including a Noah Monney interception – and were able to hold prolific Dakota pivot Reid Vankoughnett in check. To the Lancers credit, their defence kept the game within reach, including forcing a turnover on a failed third-down attempt by the Crusaders.

The second half played out much the same as the first. Dakota was able to weather the Crusader’s offensive storm early in the third quarter, but were unable to get anything going when they had the ball.

St. Paul’s would add two more scores towards the end of the third – courtesy of Peters and receiver Michael Asabil – to put the game to bed.

“Some of those guys back (from 2016) were our starting defensive line, and they really helped us,” said Crusaders head coach Stacy Dainard. “They were the solid foundation of our defence, and we had to plug in and put some pieces in on offence, it took a little while to figure out, but the guys came a long way.”

CTV BOWL

Entering Thursday night’s CTV Bowl, Oak Park senior Erick Rivera Ospina had only played three career games at running back. You wouldn’t know by watching him on the field however, as he ran up, down and around the Vincent Massey Brandon Vikings all game, earning the MVP award in a commanding 47-14 win.

Typically a linebacker, the versatile Ospina put his speed to work with nearly 200 yards rushing, including two critical touchdowns in the second quarter that pulled the Raiders in front for good.

“It’s exhausting,” Rivera said of playing both ways all game. “But I did it for my team. They pushed me to keep going. I kind of wanted to sit out a little bit, but I kept playing for them.”

Along with Rivera, Oak Park’s fellow offensive stalwarts got the job done, as quarterback Charlie Hubbard and receiver Ben Boyko combined to score all six of the Raiders touchdowns. Hubbard had two passing touchdowns and a rushing score, while Boyko and Rivera both made multiple big plays to get into the endzone.

“They’ve been with us for three years, through junior varsity and we’ve leaned on them a lot,” Raiders head coach Chad Mackay said of his three seniors. “We had about seven or eight grade 12 guys that had to play both ways for us to be successful. I love them all.”

The Vikings came out rolling on the opening possession, utilizing a heavy dose of  running back Jayden Engel to get into the red zone. A pass interferance call on third down put the ball on the Raider’s one yard line, and Vincent Massey Brandon would cash in on a one yard plunge.

Oak Park would respond quickly however, as Boyko was able to get behind his man on the ensuing Raiders drive, and went 35 yards to the house to tie the game.

 

The Raiders defence would then recover a Massey Brandon fumble and took advantage offensively. Boyko was able to haul in a long reception, and a few plays later, Rivera would culminate the drive with a 10-yard run on a toss play.

But much like in their semi-final victory over highly-touted St. Paul’s AA,  it was the Vikings defence that provided a swing in momentum. Early in the second quarter, Boyko fielded a punt return, however, Massey Brandon defender Joel Hardy punched the ball out and the Vikings took over at Oak Park 25-yard line. Hardy would finish off the following series, scoring on a one yard plunge to tie the game at 14.

That’s when Rivera took over. First, he would score from 70 yards out, tiptoeing down the sideline with game-breaking speed. It was déjà-vu on the very next drive, as he broke through the second level of the Vikings defence on a 50-yard major, giving his team a 28-14 halftime lead.

Oak Park decided to stay on the field during halftime, and their mental toughness showed, as they dominated the the final 24 minutes of play.

“I talked to my coaches, and they thought 10 minutes, screw it, we’re going to stay out here,” Mackay said of his decision to keep the players outside. “We just really wanted to keep the guys focused. I’m not saying that was it, but we came out in the second half and finished the game.”

The second half quickly turned into the Charlie Hubbard show, as the Grade 12 pivot contributed to two third-quarter majors which essentially put the game to bed. First, he scored on a 30-yard scamper, and later was able to find receiver Chris Alexander from 25 yards out for his second passing touchdown on the day.  Hubbard would add one more touchdown strike to Boyko late in the fourth to round out the scoring.

CTV Bowl

Oak Park Raiders 47 | Vincent Massey Vikings (Brandon) 14

MVP: Erick Rivera

ANAVETS Bowl

St. Paul’s Crusaders 35 | Dakota Lancers 0

MVP: Brody Lawson