WHSFL championship games preview

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: The ANAVETS Bowl sees a rematch from week three, as two national powerhouses in St. Paul’s 1 and Vincent Massey go at it.

The field is set, and now it’s time to see who the best of the best truly are as WHSFL championship week gets going. All five varsity conference champs advanced to the final, while St. John’s only loss was at the hands of Currie Conference champion Elmwood. In the JV division, Vincent Massey will look to complete a perfect season as they do battle with the resilient Grant Park Pirates. Get all the details below. Please note that there is a $5 entrance fee for all contests.

JV Homerun Bowl: Vincent Massey WPG Trojans (6-0, #1 seed) vs Grant Park Pirates (3-3, #4 seed), Thursday at 5 p.m. at IGF

The Trojans rolled through their competition in the regular season, outscoring their opponents 296-21, including four shutouts. It’s really no surprise that they’re in the position they’re in now, as they had eight players on Team Manitoba’s U16 silver medal-winning provincial team — a number of whom played vital roles, such as Negus Lewin, Payton Lake, Mekai Sallaint and Jordan Hanslip — the future of the Trojans varsity program under centre.

“We’re really close from playing on the same team for a while now,” Hanslip said of the dynamic he has with his teammates. “We just have a really good connection and we know what each other are going to do at any moment.”

The Pirates played Massey tight in the regular season, falling 27-7 in what was one of the Trojans toughest battles all year. Hanslip expects another hard-fought contest tomorrow night.

“They’re a really good team and they’re coached really well,” he said. “They’re very disciplined and play very physical, so we’re expecting a hard-hitting game and I’m hoping for the best.”

Grant Park started the season 1-3, struggling through some though injuries. But they’ve won their last four games in a row, including two shutouts. Long-time varsity head coach Mike Kennedy has done a great job grooming his players to be prepared and you can expect a dog fight when these two squads go at it. One player to watch out for is defensive end/centre Sal Pasta, who has been described by varsity head coach Doug Kovacs as a “straight up savage.”

“We had a couple mistakes and a couple turnovers the last time we played Massey and a couple of guys hung their heads at that,” Pasta said. “This time around we need to keep our heads up, even if there’s a turnover or a bad play and just go forward with the next play and keep pushing.”

Division 3 CanadInns Bowl: Elmwood Giants (5-1, #1 seed) vs St. John’s Tigers (5-1, #2 seed), Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at IGF

Two original WDS1 teams will go at it on Thursday night for division 3 supremacy, as the Tigers look to avenge their only loss of the season against the Giants.

The Tigers have had strong protection from the right side of their offensive line all year, giving pivot Myles Kakewash enough time to find open receivers or scramble for yards outside of the pocket. He finished the year with 706 passing yards and 13 scores, including 166 in the 45-28 loss to Elmwood back in week two.

One of the key hoggies up front was captain Chase Kaminski, who feels that the key to a Tigers victory in the rematch will be winning the battle up front. The Giants boast running back Evyn Melville-Toth, who broke the division 3 record for rushing touchdowns this season, with 17.

“If our defensive line controls the line of scrimmage and shuts down the run, I think we’ll do pretty good,” he said. “I believe that our 12 will out-hustle and out-work them for sure.”

The soft-spoken Melville-Toth is the furthest thing from his quiet demeanour when he steps on the field. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he thrives on contact and is essentially like a bowling ball once he gets rolling. He ran for 168 yards and four scores the first time the two teams met and will look to use his power to his advantage once again tomorrow.

“I’m small so I have a low centre of gravity,” he said. “When people try to get lower than me it doesn’t really happen. I learned to read blocks from my coaches which has also helped.”

Division 2 CTV Bowl: River East Kodiaks (6-1, #1 seed in Bramwell) vs Kelvin Clippers (6-1, #1 seed in Vidruk), Friday at 5 p.m. at IGF

This contest sees veteran head coach Jon Romu do battle with first-year bench boss Sean Oleksewycz in a rematch of their week five contest, which River East won 33-0. There’s plenty of knowledge between the two teams, as former Kodiaks varsity head coach/current JV front man Robin Meade was part of Romu’s staff back in the day.

“There’s always been a tie between River East and Kelvin as far as coaching staffs and family goes,” Romu said. “So it was actually really interesting that we make it to the finals. It’s also great, because River East and Kelvin have both been around for a long time and both teams are going through a bit of a resurgence.”

Oleksewycz preached trusting the process all year and the kids got on board, winning in the semi-finals for the first time in over two decades.

“When I took over in January, the first thing we instilled was a process and a culture,” he said. “We put a weightlifting program in and our kids bought into it. The hard work is paying off.”

Leading the charge for the Kodiaks is senior pivot Sammy Hezekiah, who scored a combined 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground while amassing over 1,000 all-purpose yards as a Player of the Year candidate. The Bison commit, who will play for the U of M as a halfback, also shut down Kelvin’s Brock Gates — the division’s leading receiver — the first time the two squads met.

“[Oleksewycz] has prepared us mentally, especially with film,” he said. “Right now, I think we have the best defence in the league and that’s because we know what the other offences are doing position-wise.”

The Clippers are no slouches on the defensive side either. The trio of Dylan Hess, Treyshaun Bollers and last year’s Kas Vidruk – Outstanding Down Lineman award winner Isaiah Letander have combined for 17 sacks. All three players are close friends off the field and have found their stride over the past two years. Bollers noted that the key to stopping Hezekiah will be limiting what he’s able to do with his legs in read-option situations — something that didn’t happen the first time around.

“I think it’s about holding our contain on the ends just so [Hezekiah] can’t keep running out,” he said. “We want to force him to use his arm instead of using his speed.”

Offensively, Clippers pivot Daniel Moroz — who was the division’s rookie of the year in 2017 — overcame a devastating spine injury during last year’s semi-final, throwing for over 1,200 yards this year. He has arguably the division’s best receiving corps, led by Gates and Robin Brooks, however the unit — like many others this season — were stymied by Hezekiah, JoJo Funk-Clements, Simon Kosman, Victor Mubambe and company during the regular season.

“Really it’s just about knowing my receivers,” Moroz said of his pass-catchers, four of whom were in the top five in yards this year. “We’ve got stud receivers all across the board and I know where they’re going to be on the field.”

River East QB/HB Sammy Hezekiah is the heart and soul of the Kodiaks team.

Division 3 ANAVETS Bowl: Vincent Massey Trojans (6-0-1, #1 seed in Gustafson) vs St. Paul’s 1 Crusaders (6-1, #1 seed in Potter), Friday at 7:30 p.m. at IGF

Two nationally ranked squads will go at it once more as the Crusaders and Trojans renew a rivalry that has quickly become one of the most competitive and entertaining in the province. St. Paul’s 1 have reached the division 1 final 11 years in a row — including back-to-back victories, while the Trojans are looking for their first bowl win since 2015, when head coach Kelsey McKay and company knocked off Stacy Dainard’s high-powered squad from River Heights.

“Every time we play St. Paul’s, we know what’s predicable. They don’t beat themselves, they’re very well-disciplined, highly-skilled and well coached,” McKay said. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us on Friday night.”

The Trojans handed St. Paul’s their only loss of the season, a 14-10 defensive slugfest in week three and Dainard knows the rematch will be just as competitive.

“Coach McKay has done a great job over there building a program, and they’re the class of our league this year,” he said. “It’s going to be a dog fight and we certainly look forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a physical game in lovely November weather.”

The Crusaders defence paced the team all year, surrendering just 21 points in the regular season. The linebacking trio of senior Tyler Grom, junior Nathan Carabatsakis and sophomore Nic Pereira pave the way, while senior defensive lineman Dylan Duha led the team in sacks.

“This whole year, we’re basically a new team,” Duha said of the defensive dynamic. “This is my first year on the division 1 team and I think just working together every day in practice and coming out and being discipled helped us this year.”

Offensively, Crusaders pivot Brody Lawson threw for over 1,000 yards and also made plays with his feet. Last year’s ANAVETS Bowl MVP also had plenty of targets to throw the ball to, including seniors  Tristen Hutter, Cordell Francis and speed demon Thane Tomlinson, who knows that the offence will need to play at the highest level in order to flip the script from the regular season contest and continue the winning tradition at St. Paul’s.

“It’s a legacy,” he said.

“We’re always building off the tradition at St. Paul’s. The veterans last year told us that we had to keep working at it and get back to this position of being in the finals again. It was something that I never wanted to forget, and being back here is another opportunity to get that feeling again, so we’re really excited to play Massey this Friday.”

Vincent Massey counters with a roster that already has two Bison commits in receiver Vaughn Lloyd and running back Breydon Stubbs. The former had a 32.8 yards per reception average while the latter registered 823 yards as a strong complement to senior pivot Jackson Tachinski — who’s also getting a strong look from the U of M and threw for over 1200 yards this year with 14 touchdowns and no picks.

Defensively, 6’8″ defensive end Kyler Filewich — who already has a division 1 offer from UND — paced the Trojans pass rush with five sacks while also being a key cog on the offensive line.

“I think our defence has been good,” he said. “We definitely improved a lot throughout the year and going into the game we should be able to perform well. It will be a tough game for sure, but I think we match up well on both sides.”

Kyler Filewich helps bring down Crusaders pivot Brody Lawson earlier in the season.

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