By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Murdoch MacKay pivot Carter Kutzan has been on a tear so far in 2018. He faces his toughest challenge to date this week in the 3-0 River East Kodiaks. Photo by Ryan Stelter.
This week’s feature contests see a tilt between the two remaining undefeated teams in division two’s Bramwell conference and a battle for positioning between Dakota and Grant Park in division 1, as well as Maples and Elmwood in division 3.
Division 1 (Potter conference): Grant Park (1-2) at Dakota (2-1), Thursday at 5 p.m.
This matchup will feature two teams that haven’t faced off in regular season action since October of 2016. In that game, the Lancers came out on top in a tough 27-25 affair.
Interestingly, Dakota still has a handful of impact players on their roster from the team’s previous contest with the Pirates. Leading the way is senior receiver Josh Forde, who had three catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in the 2016 contest. He’s off to a great start in 2018, with eight receptions for 132 yards. Tossing him the pigskin has been senior Aidan Campbell, who’s thrown for 295 yards and three scores in back-to-back wins for the Lancers.
Defensively, senior linebacker Raffaele Caliguiri had two tackles and a forced fumble in the contest from two years ago. This year, he’s tallied 11 tackles and a fumble recovery for a strong Lancers defence that also features the likes of junior linebacker Josh Ma (team-leading 16 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery), senior defensive back Josh Yanchishyn (9.5 tackles, one forced fumble) and junior defensive end Jordan Friesen (three tackles, one sack).
Grant Park will counter the Lancers offensively with their traditionally strong run game — led by Paulo Dizon — who’s among the top ball-carriers in the division after three weeks of play, with 285 yards and four scores. Not surprisingly though, the Pirates have dished the ball off to a variety of different players this year, with eight different rushers carrying the rock at least once.
Defensively, the Pirates return linebacker Blade Thickfoot, who had five tackles and a sack the last time these two teams met. He’s a very accomplished player for this team, having recorded 52 tackles and four sacks over the past two-and-a-half years. Complementing him is versatile linebacker/kicker Luca Imbrogno, whose speed has been on display all year with 19 tackles, three sacks and a blocked kick. Returning starter Jacob Sanchez is another player to watch out for. The versatile defensive back, who can also play linebacker, has seven tackles and two blocked kicks so far in 2018.
Division 2 (Bramwell conference): River East (3-0) at Murdoch MacKay (3-0), Friday at 5 p.m.
In a heavyweight tilt, the Kodiaks will take the 18 minute trek to Murdoch MacKay to do battle with the Clansmen. Fireworks should ensue, as these two squads have combined for 292 points through three weeks.
The Kodiaks two-headed monster of Bison commit Samuel Hezekiah (quarterback) and Deion Nelson (running back) will need to be limited if the Clansmen are going to have any chance of matching their opponents on the scoreboard. So far in 2018, the duo have combined for 940 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Clansmen operate out of a 3-4 defence, giving their linebackers plenty of room to fly around and make plays, which they’ll need to do against Hezekiah, Nelson and company. Defensive captain Luc Jeanson is one player to keep an eye out for in the four-man set. He’s averaged 10 tackles per game this year also has two sacks and an interception. Another player to keep watch for is defensive back Lucas Wood. “Sleep on him and he’ll knock you out on defense,” said Clansmen head coach TJ Lange.
Offensively, the Clansmen will combat River East’s attack with a solid passing game led by junior pivot Carter Kutzan. The six-foot, 190-pounder threw for 277 yards and four touchdowns last week and is also a threat to run — much like Hezekiah — in read-option situations, where he’s scored multiple rushing touchdowns in back-to-back contests for his squad. Kutzan has also been blessed with tremendous protection up front, led by Liam Sobering. He also has multiple weapons in the receiving corps, such as Alex Grace and Michael Elias.
River East’s secondary has been up to the task all season, including shutting down a dangerous Neelin passing attack in week two. They’ll need to be just as stout against the Clansmen, led by safety Ethan Topping, who has 19 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery this year. Head coach Sean Oleksewycz expects him to have a big game as usual. The key battle to pay attention to will likely be in the trenches though, as the Kodiaks will look to put pressure on Kutzan and the rest of the Clansmen’s backs — something that hasn’t happened a lot this year. Nine different River East defenders have a sack this season, led by Topping and linebacker Owen Rerick, who each have two.
Division 3: Maples (1-1) at Elmwood (1-1), Thursday at 5 p.m.
Maples is coming off of their first victory of the season last week against Tec Voc, while Elmwood suffered their first defeat in week three against Fort Frances. One of these teams will pick up some key momentum in this week four tilt.
The Marauders have been paced by a suffocating defence, led by linebacker/offensive lineman Tevonne Albert and defensive back/kicker Adamo Urciuoli, who have combined for 19.5 tackles on the year. As a team, Maples have forced 10 turnovers, with five different players registering an interception.
The Giants will provide Maples with their greatest threat offensively, led by running back Evyn Melville and pivot Logan Claeys. The former has rushed for 530 yards and seven scores on the year, while the latter has passed for 359 yards and three majors.