By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Senior Brody Lawson leads St. Paul’s 1 into the Division 1 playoffs, looking to three-peat as ANAVETS Bowl champs.
There have been plenty of tremendous storylines to follow in the WHSFL this year. From Neelin’s Evan Nachtigal (quarterback) and Kaleb Johnston (receiver) breaking multiple Division 1/2 records, to rookie head coach Sean Oleksewycz leading River East to the top seed in the Bramwell Conference, there’s been no shortage of excitement. It all comes to a head beginning tonight, as playoff season commences. Below is a breakdown of every first round matchup.
Division 1: Oak Park (3-4, #4 seed in Gustafson) at St. Paul’s 1 (6-1, #1 seed in Potter), Thursday at 5 p.m.
The Raiders will travel to River Heights on Thursday to take part in a classic rivalry that dates back decades. These two teams faced off back in week five, a tightly-contested 16-0 win for the Crusaders.
St. Paul’s 1 is paced by an athletic and intelligent defence that only gave up 21 points in the regular season, pitching five shutouts overall. The linebacking trio of senior Tyler Grom, junior Nathan Carabatsakis and sophomore Nic Pereira leads the way. They’ve combined for 41.5 tackles this year, as well as three interceptions, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
They’ll be going up against a young, but dangerous Raiders offence that has gotten tremendous production from Division 1 Rookie of the Year candidate Rhyland Kelly as well as juniors Thomas Hubbard (quarterback) and Justice Flett (receiver).
Defensively, the Raiders have a ton of talent, with the likes of linebackers James Bruin and Tyler McLuckie, defensive lineman Grayson Wright and a handful of turnover machines in the secondary, in Ben Hilton, Luc Laurin and Tyson Wood.
St. Paul’s 1 will counter with senior pivot Brody Lawson, who has the ANAVETS Bowl MVP last season. He’s got plenty of weapons in the receiving corps, including a number of impact seniors in Thane Tomlinson, Zach Wynne and the team’s leading receiver, Tristen Hutter. The run game is also a threat with the thunder-lightning combo of juniors Te Jessie and Tanner Frobisher.
Division 1: Sisler (4-3, #2 seed in Gustafson) at Dakota (4-2-1, #3 seed in Potter), Thursday at 7 p.m.
This is a rematch of last year’s semi-final, which the Lancers won. Dakota’s roster is significantly different from last season — particularly at the pivot position and in the secondary — however they still have a number of game-changing threats, specifically on defence.
Junior linebacker Josh Ma is the heart and soul of Dak’s defence, playing particularly well in the Lancers 14-14 tie against the vaunted 6-0-1 Vincent Massey Trojans in early October. He’s supported by a number of other playmakers in the front seven, including fellow linebackers Raffaele Caligiuri and Josh Paulic, as well as defensive linemen Jordan Friesen (Division 1 Rookie of the Year in 2017), Ethan Papineau and Daniel Okedara. The secondary is held down by veteran senior Josh Yanchishyn.
The Spartans will counter on offence with two of the best pure athletes in the league, in senior running back/safety Austin Balan and junior receiver Stephen Koniuck. The former was tops in Division 1 with 1222 yards rushing, while the latter was number one in receiving yards, with 415.
Balan, a U of M commit, is also the Spartans leader on defence, where he had a ridiculous stat line of 81.5 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s supported by a stellar front four, which includes veterans Chris Grouette and Noah Cabral, who have combined for 65 tackles and five sacks.
The Lancers will look for a solid game offensively from last year’s Division 3 Rookie of the Year, running back Peter Orajekwe. He’s supported by pivot Aidan Campbell and a well-rounded receiving corps that includes senior Junior Ross — the younger brother of Manitoba Bisons receiver Shai — as well as Ethan Dannell and Matt Toyne.
Division 1: Steinbach (3-4, #4 seed in Potter) at Vincent Massey WPG (6-0-1, #1 seed in Gustafson), Friday at 4 p.m.
The Trojans enter this contest with a balanced attack on offence that features senior quarterback Jackson Tachinksi, Bison commit Breydon Stubbs at running back and a dangerous receiving corps that includes Shad Nkiasi-Nsedwir and Jayden Zimmer. Tachinski had well over 1100 yards passing this season, with Nkiasi-Nsedwir and Zimmer combining for 463 yards. Stubbs had over 700 yards on the ground and averaged over six yards per carry.
Steinbach snuck into the playoffs in the final week of the season with a win over Grant Park, and will look to pull the upset with a defence that includes linebacker Isaac Dokken and defensive lineman Thomas Peters. The duo combined for 60.5 tackles, eight sacks and an interception in the regular season.
Offensively, the Sabres are paced by their pivot Sawyer Thiessen, who has thrown for over 1000 yards in each of the past two years. Receivers Payton Falk, Jayden Martens and Tyson Bennett provide some tremendous production as pass-catchers, combining for 784 yards.
The Trojans will look to silence the Sabres passing attack with a boatload of talent all across the board. Senior defensive end Kyler Filewich — who stands at 6’8″ — is a handful to block due to his length. He led the team with four sacks this year and was offered a scholarship to UND back in the summer. The real storyline to pay attention to here though, will be the play of Massey’s secondary against Thiessen and company. Tegan Simon, Brandon Kamenz and Quinn Adolfson combined for five interceptions in the regular season, while Sam Oyetunji recorded three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including the game-ender against St. Paul’s 1 in week three.
Division 1: Vincent Massey BDN (4-3, #3 seed in Gustafson) at Garden City (5-2, #2 seed in Potter), Friday at 4 p.m.
Vincent Massey Brandon was the feel good story of division 1, winning a program-high four games. They’ll have to be on their a-game to top a Fighting Gophers squad with plenty of team speed.
The Vikings offence runs through 2018 Canada Cup members Gavin Reid (offensive line) and Zane Anderson (running back). Reid has great size and is the leader up front, while Anderson is a terror to bring down due to his 5’11, 231-pound frame. The former fullback carried the rock for over 200 yards against a stout Massey Winnipeg defence in week two and had well over 700 yards rushing on the season.
Garden City will counter defensively with an athletic secondary that includes Bison commits Jarrett Alcaraz and Elijah Rivera, as well as Everrett Findley and Reese Francey. All four players had at least ten tackles this year and fly around the field making plays.
Alcaraz and Findley are also difference makers on offence for the Fighting Gophers. The former had over 1000 all-purpose yards and 11 scores as the team’s starting pivot, while Findley had over 200 yards receiving. Fellow pass-catchers Payton Yakimishyn and Kaiden Bannon are also dangerous threats, with close to 400 combined receiving yards.
The Vikings defence will hope to limit Garden City with the play of two game-changing veterans in linebacker Jayden Engel and halfback Karanvir Gill. The former represented Team Manitoba at the Canada Cup this summer and has built off of that experience with 30 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety on the year. The latter has added 25 tackles and a sack as a stable force in the secondary. Defensive end Kristjen Frederickson has provided the Vikings with a solid pass rush, contributing 21 tackles and three sacks.
Division 2: Miles Mac (2-5, #4 seed in Vidruk) at River East (6-1, #1 seed in Bramwell), Thursday at 4 p.m.
Sean Oleksewycz’s Kodiaks rolled to a 6-1 record on the strength of stout defensive play and a dangerous run game.
Bison commit/Player of the Year candidate Sammy Hezekiah leads the way on both sides of the ball. He’s a two-way threat who had over 1000 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns — 13 of which came from rushing touchdowns. With lead back Deion Nelson no longer on the team, Hezekiah will have to pick up the slack even more. He does have a strong supporting cast however, as running backs JoJo Funk-Clements and Rylan Griffths offer a well-balanced speed and power display, while Ethan Topping (linebacker/safety), Spenser Pilon (linebacker), Joshua Desjarlais (linebacker), Landon Colbourn (linebacker) and Simon Kosman (defensive back) are all playmakers on defence.
The Buckeyes will counter with a well-balanced run game of their own, featuring Darnell Udoh and Juan Ayala Salinas. The duo combined for 1056 yards rushing and each averaged over seven yards per carry. Defensively, the team relies on a strong linebacking corps that features Evan Rollwagen, Andrew Glenn and Zachary Chiarotto. The trio had 77 tackles and eight sacks on the year.
Division 2: Crocus Plains (4-3, #4 seed in Bramwell) at Kelvin (6-1, #1 seed in Vidruk), Thursday at 4 p.m.
The Plainsmen pulled the upset of the season last week, knocking off the previously undefeated Murdoch MacKay Clansmen 19-16 to leapfrog over the DMCI Maroons for the final playoff spot in the Bramwell Conference. In order to keep their season alive, senior pivot Logan Sedgwick and company will have to get past Kelvin — a team that has finished as the number one seed in the division for each of the past two years.
A big reason for the Clippers success has been their defence, which shut out five of their opponents this year, including a tightly contested 8-0 win over Crocus in week three. Kelvin had an insane 30 sacks this year, 17 of which came from the fearsome trio of defensive linemen Isaiah Letander (Bison commit), Dylan Hess and Treyshaun Bollers. Offensively, last year’s Rookie of the Year Daniel Moroz has kept his furious pace going, throwing for over 1200 yards, while receivers Brock Gates, Robin Brooks, Liam Stephenson and Adam Fast all hauled in at least 230 yards.
Division 2: Portage (4-3, #3 seed in Bramwell) at West Kildonan (5-2, #2 seed in Vidruk), Thursday at 4 p.m. at Eastside ($5 entrance fee)
The Wolverines and Trojans will do battle in a rematch of their week three contest, which Portage won 39-17. West K running back De’Von Young was held to just 60 yards the first time the two teams met, and will need to have a big game in the rematch. He was the squad’s feature back this season with 703 yards and five scores.
Portage will hope to keep him in check once more with a defence that is led by Canada Cup member Carter Little on the defensive line. He was tied for the team lead in sacks this season and was also the leading tackler. Offensively, the Trojans did an excellent job running between the tackles with lead back Kaiden Banfield — a member of Team Manitoba’s silver medal-winning U16 squad.
The Wolverines will hope to limit him with a combination of speed and power, led by linebacker Nick Birch, who had five sacks on the year and also led the team in tackles for a second straight season. He gets solid support from players such as Justin Petrishen and Jacob Harris-Settee. The pair of defensive backs combined for 43 tackles, two interceptions and four sacks.
Division 2: St. Norbert (4-3, #3 seed in Vidruk) at Murdoch MacKay (5-1-1, #2 seed in Bramwell), Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Eastside ($5 entrance fee)
This matchup will pit two teams who have been the feel good stories of division 2. Murdoch is back in the league after having to fold their varsity program last season, while the Celtics have had a tremendous campaign playing up a division for the first time. These two squads originally met in week five, a 25-0 victory for the Clansmen.
Murdoch’s offence runs through junior pivot Carter Kutzan, who can make plays with his arms and legs, as evidenced by his well over 1100 all-purpose yards. The division 2 Offensive Player of the Year candidate has some great pieces around him as well, including locker room leader Liam Sobering at offensive line as well as Preston (running back) and Christian Kull (receiver) as well as Luke Wood (receiver). The trio combined for 1000 yards in the regular season.
Linebackers Joe Benoit and Brandon Palichuk headline a physical Celtics defence. Both players also had strong showings the first time the two squads met, as the former had five tackles and two fumble recoveries, while the latter added 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Division 3: Tec Voc (1-6) at Churchill (4-2), Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., winner faces St. John’s next week in the semi-finals
These two squads originally met in week six, a 45-16 win for the Bulldogs. The biggest storyline to keep in mind for this game will be whether or not the Hornets can contain William Barnsdale on both sides of the ball. He set a new division 3 record for forced fumbles in a season, with seven, and added 703 yards on the ground as the team’s lead back towards the latter half of the regular season. The Bulldogs also got 427 yards and three scores from Yves Amane as a stellar complement to Barnsdale in the backfield.
It will be up to Chase Sinclair (defensive back), David San Juan (linebacker) and Michael Santos (linebacker) to contain the Bulldogs ball carriers. They combined for 44 tackles on the year.
Division 3: Maples (1-6) at Fort Frances (4-2) Thursday at 2:30 p.m., winner faces Elmwood next week in the semi-finals
The Muskies got past Maples 17-7 in the regular season, and they will make it two-for-two tomorrow night in what should be a stellar contest.
Fort Frances pivot Brady Meeks had a phenomenal showing the first time the two squads met, finishing with 167 yards and two scores. A total of 134 of those yards went to Riley Argue, who had 388 on the yer, as well as five touchdowns.
The Marauders did have two interceptions in the loss, and will look to win the turnover game with team leader Adamo Urciuoli and versatile threat Danten Santos. Urciuoli had eight tackles in the contest to pace the squad, while Santos registered both picks and had three overall on the year. Veteran defensive lineman Tevonne Albert will also be looked upon to generate a solid pass rush.