They no longer sit atop the standings, but the Dakota Lancers football team is having another rewarding season.
After dominating the Currie (A) Division and winning a championship in 2010, their first season, the Lancers moved up to the Vidruk (AA) Division last year and rolled through the regular season before losing a semifinal heartbreaker to Grant Park.
Now they’re in the Potter (AAA) Division, playing against the best teams in the province, and more than holding their own.
Coming off a 20-8 win over Murdoch MacKay last week, the Lancers are 3-4, and have been in every game except for an early-season loss to St. Paul’s.
You might think the Lancers have made this climb to the top with dozens of players who started in Grade 10 and worked their way up. But only seven players on the current roster have been part of coach Ray Jarvis’s program since the very beginning.
"It’s been a good challenge for us," Jarvis said. "We certainly discussed with the veterans the idea of competing with the best and moving your game up. Some of those guys have certainly held their own."
Grade 12 defensive end/offensive tackle Quinton Bowles is one of those seven players. He said making it to the Potter Division was a distant dream two-and-a-half years ago.
"I had a feeling we might do it, but it wasn’t for sure," said the St. Vital resident. "To play against the top competition, to see how the team does and how I do, where we fit in, is great."
Bowles didn’t expect the Lancers to continue to rack up lopsided wins in their new division, and he was OK with that.
"I like the tough wins, where it comes down to the last three minutes and we win or lose by two," he said. "The level of intensity and competitiveness is a lot higher (in Potter)."
Playing in the top division has also meant an increased commitment to football for all the players. Bowles said he’s working harder than ever in practice, knowing how much tougher the games will be.
For the bulk of the roster, this is the start of what they hope will be a lengthy run playing the likes of Oak Park, Sisler and Churchill.
Chris Donnelly, a Grade 11 receiver from St. Vital, is playing his first season of high school football after coming up through the Greendell Falcons program.
"Not playing in one age group, but with all the grades, it’s crazy," Donnelly said. "Getting tossed in the top division is tough. There’s no bad players. Everyone is giving their all, and the older guys are helping me get better."
Jarvis said he’s never measured the program’s success by wins and losses, but by individual and collective improvement.
"When we first started this a few years ago, I looked at it as a five-year program," he said. "We may have gotten to the Potter Division faster than anticipated, but it doesn’t change our overall perspective."