By: Mike Still
Feature photo: River East defensive backs Joseph Funk-Clements (L) and Kian Crampton (R) sandwich Kelvin receiver Cooper Dawson as he attempts to haul in a pass.
The Garden City Fighting Gophers, River East Kodiaks and Elmwood Giants all maintained their grasp for divisional supremacy this week with critical victories last Thursday and Friday night.
Division 1: Garden City Fighting Gophers (4-1) 32 – 13 Sturgeon Heights Huskies (2-3)
It was the Jarrett Alcaraz and Reese Francey show last Thursday night, as Garden City was able to knock off Sturgeon. Alcaraz threw for 148 yards and a touchdown and also had 120 yards rushing and two scores in a standout performance while also playing defensive back. Francey was tremendous in the secondary for the Fighting Gophers, registering eight tackles while also contributing a blocked kick.
Alcaraz, who will play for the University of Manitoba next year, connected with impact senior Payton Yakimishyn for his lone passing score on the day. The receiver finished the contest with a team-leading 76 yards on three catches and now has 201 yards on the year.
Next up for Garden City is a Friday afternoon clash with Grant Park on the road. Sturgeon also plays on Friday, as they head to Charleswood to do battle with the Oak Park Raiders.
Division 2: River East Kodiaks (4-1) 33 – 0 Kelvin Clippers (4-1)
The Kodiaks handed Kelvin their first loss of the 2018 campaign on Thursday afternoon with a commanding shutout win over the Clippers. It was also the first time River East has beaten Kelvin in 12 years.
“It’s the best bus ride we’ve had coming over here since I’ve been a high school coach,” said Kodiaks head coach Sean Oleksewycz postgame. “I’ve been lucky to be on a couple CFL and university buses and have seen how those guys act. Our guys didn’t say one word coming over here. I knew as soon as we got here that we’d be able to play a physical brand of football and win this game.”
The Kodiaks became the first team to score against the Clippers this season after an opening drive touchdown pass from U of M commit Sammy Hezekiah to versatile running back/defensive back Joseph Funk-Clements. The touchdown would end up being the game-winner as the visitors shut down defending division 2 rookie of the year Daniel Moroz and a potent Kelvin passing attack.
Rylan Griffiths and Joshua Desjarlais paced a solid River East pass rush, combining for seven tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble. Ethan Topping, Simon Kosman and Spenser Pilon also added interceptions while Hezekiah held game-breaking receiver Brock Gates in check. Fellow Clippers pass-catchers Adam Fast, Robin Brooks and Liam Stephenson all made big-time plays for their squad, but were unable to find the end zone.
Offensively, River East’s two-headed monster of Hezekiah and Deion Nelson continued to wreak havoc. Nelson had 155 yards rushing on just 15 carries and also added a touchdown, while Hezekiah had 108 all-purpose yards and three scores.
“He competes,” Oleksewycz said of Hezekiah.
“I’m just trying to coach him up as hard as I can to get him prepared for the next level where [University of Manitoba head coach] Brian [Dobie] and his staff will take over. I know he’s very excited to play for [defensive coordinator] Stan [Pierre].
No disrespect to any other coaches in the league, but him and I watch more film together than any other player-coach. All credit to him, he played a hell of a game and does everything he’s taught.”
Kelvin’s best chance to get on the board came in the first half on a drive that was set up by multiple big gains from running back Lamont Evert, who was the home side’s best offensive player. They had three cracks to get into the end zone from the two yard line, but were stymied by a big-time sack from Topping on their final attempt. It was the first of multiple turnovers on third down by the Clippers, as they lost their kicker/punter Ethan Nagler to injury during the contest.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for either of these teams this week. River East will head to Portage la Prairie on Friday to take on the 3-2 Trojans, while the Clippers will host St. Norbert on the same day in a battle for sole possession of first place in the Vidruk Conference.
Division 3: Elmwood Giants (4-1) 30 – 26 Churchill Bulldogs (2-2)
In a battle of two of the best running backs in the conference, it was Elmwood’s Evyn Melville who stepped up once again, rushing for 329 yards and two scores in a hard-fought four point victory over Churchill.
The Bulldogs did an admirable job defensively despite Melville’s statistics, forcing three interceptions from Giants pivot Logan Claeys. Unfortunately, Elmwood was just as strong on both sides of the ball, recovering four fumbles while also getting an interception from defensive end Jeremy Hampshire, his second of the year.
The Giants have a bye this week and will host Tec Voc in two weeks time in their final regular season game of the year. Churchill will face Tec this Thursday.