When it came time on Tuesday to introduce the captains of his championship-contender team, Murdoch MacKay Clansmen football coach T.J. Lange didn't name names.
You see, he explained at a news conference for the 2013 Winnipeg High School Football League's final games, his squad is a family. They have to be that way, cobbling together a 38-player roster from a school of about 800 kids spread across four grades. Some guys have to do double-duty on defence and offence, and everyone's gotta pull their weight to stick in the WHSFL's top John Potter AAA division.
'The best competition brings out the best competitors, so that's where we wanted to be'
"We have these kids from when they're in Grade 9 or 10. We don't have a junior varsity team," Lange said, noting many other schools in the WHSFL's top division have a feeder team. "The little guys on the team are your little brothers, the big guys are the big brothers, and you look after each other."
Now, this band of brothers will face the fearsome St. Paul's Crusaders in the Anavets Bowl at Investors Group Field on Friday night, for a shot at the division title. The squad earned that right when they dispatched the Dakota Lancers in a tight 29-22 semifinal win last week. But the Crusaders are a different matter altogether: the St. Paul's team is ranked among the top 10 high school programs in the country. They were champions last year and the year before that.
What St. Paul's has: an all-around solid game plan, a stifling defence, a persistent attack and a running back in Alex Taylor who can explode out of space. It's sort of a classic Jack-meets-giant story for Murdoch MacKay.
"We love it, that's what we want," Lange said. "The best competition brings out the best competitors, so that's where we wanted to be. That was the plan at the start of the season. We had some bumps along the way but we got there."
See, the Clansmen have weapons too, a dazzling air show being the biggest one. Quarterback Drenin Busch racked up a staggering 1,937 passing yards and 17 touchdowns on 156 attempts through the season. His completion rate of 63.5 per cent led all starting pivots, and it surely helped that he has targets: the top three receivers in the division are all Clansmen. One of them, Kaanon Felix, hauled down 32 receptions for 654 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the league.
The last time these two teams met back on Oct. 11, the Crusaders shut down that attack and won 41-9, the most lopsided loss of the Clansmen's 4-3-1 season. Now, the Clansmen are a bunch of self-proclaimed Transcona boys hunting for redemption.
"It's unreal right now, I'm super excited," said Cam Duplin, 17, who plays both safety and wide receiver -- he was third in the league in receiving yards, with 509.
"There's nothing really to say about St. Paul's... they're a well-coached team and their defensive backs are taught really well how to stop what we have. We just have to trust in the players we have. We've picked up a lot of speed through the playoffs and hopefully that can get us a win this week."
THE DETAILS: The Murdoch MacKay Clansmen will face the St. Paul's Crusaders in WHSFL John Potter championship action Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Investors Group Field. At 5 p.m., the St. Paul's Crusaders second team will take on the Garden City Fighting Gophers in the final of the WHSFL's AA Kas Vidruk division. Both AA teams ended the season with 6-2 records to lead the division.