The YRHS Raider Gridders senior football team is one away from a 3A 12-man championship.
The Raider Gridders advanced to the Moose Jaw High School Football League finals, where they will meet the Peacock Tornadoes on Nov. 2 in Moose Jaw, by knocking off the Weyburn Eagles 42-14 in their semi-final matchup on Saturday at Kinsmen Century Field.
Taking into account Weyburn’s defence put up a tough fight in their regular-season affair where Yorkton won 28-7, Raider Gridders head coach Roby Sharpe didn’t expect his team to post 42 points on the board and 35 by the end of the second quarter.
“I expected a closer game,” said Sharpe. “Weyburn is a good team; they finished third in the standings only losing two games. I thought this game would be one where it might be close right until the final quarter or so.”
The Raider Gridders’ running game ultimately won them the contest. Of their 522 offensive yards, 435 of them came on the ground. They chose to stick to the ground because the cold and windy weather conditions made it tougher to move the ball in the air and the Eagles had trouble stopping them on the ground.
“We wanted to try to stick to running the ball if we could,” said Sharpe. “It’s harder to throw the ball with the wind and everything and we know we got the right guys to move the ball down the field.”
Up 14-7 early in the second quarter, the Raider Gridders scored two touchdowns on just three offensive plays to take a stranglehold on the game. Following a David Balysky quarterback sneak, Alex Popoff intercepted the ball on Weyburn’s first play after the kickoff. Zak Kais then busted through the Eagles’ defence to capture Yorkton’s fourth touchdown on the second offensive play of the short drive.
“That was big for us,” said Sharpe. “That interception by Popoff was huge and Kais found a hole and drove into the end zone. Those plays really gave us some breathing room in the game.”
Kais was the star of the game, running for 292 yards on 27 carries.
“We call him a little ball of hate,” said Sharpe on Kais. “You just can’t stop him. He bounces off guys and he finds the holes that the offensive line gives him. What can you say – he’s something special. Not too many guys can get 100 yards let alone almost 300.”
Balysky completed six of nine passes for 87 yards while running for 51 yards on nine rushes.
“I was happy with my game,” said Balysky. “We got the win and that’s what it’s all about. And we really did a good job of running the ball.”
The windy weather conditions helped the Raider Gridders’ defence hold Weyburn quarterback Kirk Winter to only 87 yards in the air.
“The defence was great,” said Sharpe. “They didn’t let Weyburn get much for passing yards. And even on the ground they didn’t let them get much (119 yards).”
Popoff stood out among the Raider Gridders’ defensive backs with two key interceptions.
“When he’s not catching the ball on offence, he’s catching it on defence,” said Sharpe. “He’s a great player for us. He’s a real football player. Some guys play receiver or defensive back, but don’t have the tools to make big plays. Popoff had the tools and he executes for us.”
Up against Peacock in the finals, Sharpe doesn’t want to have to endure a long bus ride home after a loss like he did last year.
“The bus ride home will suck if we lose; I don’t want to do that again,” said the head coach. “It’s a case where two very good teams will play each other, so we know we have to have things go right for us to win. But I know what kind of team we have; this team definitely has what it takes to win a championship. This group are winners – they’ve shown that all year long.”
In their regular-season battle against the Tornadoes, the Raider Gridders struggled with turnovers, making four interceptions and two fumbles, in the 44-21 loss on Oct. 15 in Moose Jaw. Albeit the expected cold weather conditions in the championship game will work against both teams in the turnover category, Sharpe believes his club can easily fix their turnover errors the second time around.
“Fumbles and interceptions can be fixed,” he said. “I know we can make fewer errors in our second game with Peacock. This time we know more of what to expect from them and that will help us out.”
As they did against Weyburn and practically all year long, Yorkton will lean on their ground game in the big match.
“That’s our strength, so we will need our running stars to have good games. I’m confident they will have good games.”