By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Quarterback/halfback Sammy Hezekiah will be critical to the Kodiak’s success against a stout Kelvin defence.
This week’s marquee matchups see two critical tilts in division 2 between four teams that have lost just one game between them, while in division 1 and 3 feature four teams jostling for position.
Division 1: Garden City (3-1) at Sturgeon Heights (2-2), Thursday at 4 p.m.
The Fighting Gophers and Huskies will meet tomorrow night in a critical battle for playoff positioning in division 1.
Garden City is led by their two U of M commits, in quarterback/defensive back Jarrett Alcaraz and running back/defensive back Elijah Rivera. Offensively, the duo have combined for 988 yards and eight touchdowns — seven of which have come from Alcaraz. Defensively, they’ve added 17 tackles and play lights out in the secondary. Additionally, receivers Kaiden Bannon, Payton Yakimishyn and Everrett Findley are always a threat with the ball in their hands, combining for 431 yards and two scores on the year.
Perhaps the most intriguing stat however, comes from Rivera, who has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in back-to-back games while adding over 150 yards in returns. Findley is also a threat in the return game, as he took a punt back 80 yards against Sisler in week three. The versatile athlete also plays defensive back and leads the team with two picks so far. Fellow defensive back Reese Francey is another talented player to look for in the secondary. He has 14 tackles and a fumble recovery on the year.
The Huskies will counter Garden City’s versatile offensive core with a group of hard-nosed athletes, led by senior linebacker/running back Carter Wiwchar and fellow grade 12 Easton DeGroot, who plays on the offensive and defensive lines.
Wiwchar is the general of the group, according to Sturgeon Heights head coach Eric Vincent. An undersized outside linebacker, his crisp reads and football IQ help him make plays all over the field. DeGroot is aggressive and has an endless motor, despite playing on both sides of the ball. According to his head coach, he “flies all over the field making plays as an end or as our right tackle on offence.”
Offensively, the team has had to adjust after the graduation of a number of critical players such as Senior Bowl MVP Liam Prendergast as well as current University of Manitoba offensive lineman Brock Gutowski and Winnipeg Rifles receiver Jake Roger. Despite the changes, junior pivot Kiran Jayabalan has stepped in admirably at the pivot position. He has a number of weapons to throw the ball to, including receiver Danial Adam, who is “a threat both running the ball and through the air,” according to Vincent. His sure hands and crisp routes make him a favourite target for Jayabalan.
The x-factors in this contest could be the Huskies offensive line. They were key in helping the team to big wins in weeks two and three with 250+ yards rushing in each game, led once more by DeGroot.
Division 2: River East (3-1) at Kelvin (4-0), Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
Last week, the Kodiaks suffered their first loss of the season against the 4-0 Murdoch MacKay Clansmen. They’ll have an equally tough task this week as they head to River Heights to do battle with the Kelvin Clippers, one of three teams still undefeated in division 2.
This game will feature one of the best athletes in the province, in Bison commit Sammy Hezekiah going against a Clippers defence that has yet to surrender a point through four weeks of divisional play.
River East’s dual-threat pivot has scored 11 combined touchdowns on the ground and through the air this year, but will have to get past a stout Kelvin front four, led by fellow Bison commit Isaiah Letander, who has 11.5 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety on the year. Letander will be complemented by fellow defensive linemen Treyshaun Bollers, Dylan Hess and Rylan Galbraith, who as a unit have combined for 12 sacks — six coming from Hess.
Offensively, the Clippers have gotten 552 yards and six touchdowns from quarterback Daniel Moroz, the defending Rookie of the Year for division 2. He has plenty of targets to throw the ball to, including Brock Gates, who leads the team with 255 yards receiving and five scores. The Kodiaks will counter with a secondary that is among the best in the league, led by Hezekiah, Ethan Topping and Joseph Funk-Clements. Topping and Funk-Clements have combined for 50 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries on the year.
Division 2: St. Norbert (4-0) at Murdoch MacKay (4-0), Friday at 4:30 p.m.
The other huge tilt in division 2 sees the Clansmen and Celtics go head-to-head in a game that will see one squad’s undefeated record fall. Along with the Vincent Massey Vikings in division 1, the Celtics have been the feel good story of the WHSFL this season, going undefeated thus far despite never playing in division 2 prior to this season.
Versatility has been the key for the Celtics on offence, with multiple players stepping up, including quarterback Curtis Junghans. The pivot has already thrown for 530 yards this year, just 47 off of his total all of last season. He’s distributed the ball to seven different receivers so far in 2018, with senior Joe Benoit and junior Ryan Blanco leading the way, combining for 318 yards and two scores. Blanco has also added 290 yards and three scores on the ground.
Realistically though, this game will come down to how well the Celtics can stop Murdoch’s potent offensive attack, led by junior pivot Carter Kutzan. He carved through a stout River East defence last week, with 138 yards passing and 113 rushing, to go with four combined scores. The Clansmen’s signal-caller already has well over 1,000 all-purpose yards on the year and is a threat with both his arm and legs. He also gets tremendous protection up front, led by Liam Sobering and Dawson Waldner.
Countering the Clansmen’s versatile pivot will be a physical Celtics defence, led by Benoit and fellow linebacker Brandon Palichuk. The former is second in the division with 23 tackles and also has an interception, while the latter has 12 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The secondary is paced by Blanco and Dawson Proskurnik, with the former being tied for the division lead in interceptions, with four.
Division 3: Churchill (2-1) at Elmwood (3-1), Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Two of the top backs in the division will meet in week five, as Churchill’s Gustavo Quadros and Elmwood’s Evyn Melville go toe-to-toe. Quadros erupted for over 200 yards against Lorette a few weeks ago, while Melville has been nearly unstoppable, racking up 675 yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns.
Pacing the Giants on defence will be linebacker Owen Giancola, who already has 28.5 tackles, an interception, a sack and four fumble recoveries on the year. Fellow linebacker Jacobien O’Connor has added 16 tackles, two forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and four touchdowns.
Churchill is led on defence by linebacker/running back William Barnsdale, who has 13 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries so far.