The YRHS Raider Gridders senior football team is only one win away from advancing to the Moose Jaw High School Football League’s championship game for the second straight year.
The 12-man 3A football club clobbered the Moose Jaw Vanier Vikings in their first-round playoff matchup 43-6 at Century Field on Saturday.
The Raider Gridders square off against the Weyburn Eagles, who they beat 28-7 in the regular-season, in their semifinals matchup on Saturday at home. The time is yet to be determined.
“We are really excited for our rematch against Weyburn,” said head coach Roby Sharpe. “They are a good team and it will be a close game. We beat them by three scores in the regular-season, but it could have been a lot closer. They finished third right behind us in the standings for a reason.”
Against the Vikings, the Raider Gridders grabbed a commanding 21-0 lead after the first half.
“This was a game, because of where we finished (second place) and where they finished (last place), we expected to win,” said Sharpe. “They are in a rebuilding year so I expected us to take an early lead based on how we stacked up against them in the regular-season.”
Yorkton notched 13 more points, including two field goals from Bo Chiasson, in the third quarter to put the game away, giving them a 34-0 lead.
“We want to score touchdowns, but it’s nice to have a kicker that can get us three points – not every team has that luxury,” said Sharpe. “For some teams, they have to gamble on third and longs because they don’t have anyone that can kick field goals.”
Raider Gridders running back Zak Kais tore up the field on the ground for Yorkton, rushing for 144 yards on 12 carries.
“He’s had an unbelievable season,” said Sharpe. “He ended up finishing second in the entire league in rushing yards. The Vanier game was just another example of him showing he’s one of the best running backs in the province.”
Quarterback David Balysky completed six of 11 passes for 118 yards and ran for 121 yards on just eight rushes.
“It’s great to see David get more than 100 yards on both the ground and in the air,” said Sharpe. “He has really excelled as a running quarterback for us.”
The Raider Gridders finished the game with 381 offensive yards while giving up 129 yards, with only 40 of them rushing, to the Vikings.
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the Raider Gridders dropped their final regular-season game against AE Peacock Tornadoes 44-21 on the road to dash their undefeated record.
“It was a disappointing loss,” said star lineman Mike Kozushka. “We didn’t play up to our potential against Peacock, so we know we can do better than that.”
Ultimately, turnovers cost Yorkton the game as Balysky threw four interceptions and the team committed two fumbles that weren’t recovered.
“When you turn the ball over six times on interceptions and fumbles, including two that looked like they were heading for touchdowns, you aren’t going to win the game,” said Sharpe.
Kais stood out for Yorkton in the loss giving them a solid ground game. He rushed for 104 yards on 15 rushes.
Balysky completed 10 of 19 passes for 138 yards and gained 29 yards on two rushes. Alex Popoff was the Grade 12 quarterback’s main target as he hit him five times for 78 yards.
Yorkton finished the game with 278 offensive yards while giving up 373 yards, including 208 on the ground, to the Tornadoes.
The loss didn’t deflate Sharpe’s hopes of winning a championship this year, though. He feels the mistakes his team made can be fixed and his club matches up closer to the Tornadoes than the score suggests.
“The game shows they are a really good team again, but we are a good team, too,” he said. “We can work on the turnovers and change those mistakes. We are still confident we have the right guys to win it all.”
It goes without saying the Raider Gridders are trying not to look past Weyburn, but a rematch with the Tornadoes in the finals is in their minds.
“We don’t want to lose to them in the finals in back-to-back years,” said Sharpe referencing to that Peacock beat YRHS last year in the championship game. “It’s impossible not to think about it. But we can’t underestimate Weybrun so we are just focusing on them now. At any level you just have to take it one game at a time.”
Final league standings
1. AE Peacock Tornadoes (6-0-0). 2. Yorkton Raider Gridders (5-1-0). 3. Weyburn Eagles (4-2-0). 4. Central Cyclones (3-3-0). 5. Swift Current Colts (2-4-0). 6. Estevan Elecs (1-5-0). 7. Vanier Vikings (0-6-0).
Raider Gridders standout seasons
Zak Kais finished tied for second in touchdowns with 13 and second in rushing yards with 933 yards… Alex Popoff led the league in pass receiving yards with 621 and interceptions with four… David Balysky finished second in passing yards with 1111 and tied for fifth in touchdowns with nine… Darious Haberstock finished third in putting yards average with 32.36. Honourable mentions go to linebacker Grey McKen and linemen Peter and Mike Kozushka - who stood out as stars - as the league doesn’t keep track of stats for their positions.