Brown leads Dakota to victory
Record-breaking linebacker commander of Lancers defence
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Dakota Collegiate inched one game closer to its first triple-A varsity provincial football crown on Friday evening.
The Lancers, who entered the Winnipeg High School Football League playoffs as the top seed in the Gustafson Conference after finishing 7-1 in the regular season, dominated fourth-seed Vincent Massey Collegiate (Wpg) 28-0 in the semi-final at IG Field.
Dakota advanced to its first Division 1 title game since 2017 and will return to IG Field to play St. Paul’s High School on Nov. 12 at 4 p.m..
The Lancers’ stout defence swarmed the Trojans all game, carrying over their dominance from the regular season, during which they allowed a second-best 12.6 points per game.
Led by senior linebacker Nevan Brown, who all but ended the game in the fourth quarter with an interception, the defence prevented the Trojans from crossing midfield for much of the game.
“Every year I feel like I’m saying this, but, this is the best defence I’ve ever coached,” said head coach Mitchell Harrison, in his fourth season heading the Lancers program. “It’s pretty phenomenal. Nevan broke the tackle record, that speaks a lot. It says a lot about the leadership on the defence but also the athleticism, the skillset, the preparation that they put into it.
“The feeling is just confidence. I don’t really have words to express the emotions I’m feeling, it’s just been a lot of work. To be doing what we thought we would do, is a tremendous feeling. But, I also pause because there’s so much more work to do still. This is not the end goal, this is just the next step until we finally get to do what we want to do.”
Brown, who ended the year with a WHSFL single-season record 99 tackles this season, recorded one of four Lancers interceptions on the night.
“We were swarming, for sure,” Brown said. “As linebackers, we call ourselves the wolves because we hunt the ball, and we definitely did that today. We lived up to that standard.”
The Lancers offence did its fair share of damage to the tune of three touchdowns on the night. Running back Augustine Nkundimana opened the scoring in the first quarter on a short yardage run before the Lancers tacked on one of two Benjamin Marsh field goals in the game.
Up 13 with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, the Lancers were simply hoping to get into field goal position to tack on some extra points going into the intermission. That was until running back John Boubard, who worked back from an ankle injury he suffered earlier this season, broke the Trojans’ contain and scampered for a 55-yard major, putting Dakota up 20-0 at the break.
“I needed to stay in bounds, I got pushed a little bit. But I needed to put our team up a little bit, and give them a boost. I did everything I could,” Boubard said. “(Good defence) is amazing because it puts less pressure on the offence when we go out and we have a good spot on the field to run the ball and do what we need to do to score.”
Dakota kept the pressure on out of the break, as quarterback Blake Penner found receiver Mikias Bockru for a five-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive to swell the lead to 27.
Just as the Lancers were threatening to score yet again, the Trojans’ defence appeared to have changed the tide with 5:24 remaining in the third frame, forcing Nkundimana to cough up the ball. It was the first sign of momentum for the underdogs, but cornerback Marcus Wall quickly put a stop to that, intercepting quarterback Miles Blatherwick to tilt the field back in Dakota’s favour.
“We’re running stuff that not a ton of teams do at this level and it’s been a tremendous benefit to us,” said Harrison of his defence. “I’m really, really proud of the group.”
“We’re ready for whoever we got.”
Crusaders 22, Raiders 13
The second game of the back-to-back featured a much more spirited battle between second-seed St. Paul’s High School and third-seed Oak Park High School, ending in a 22-13 victory for the Crusaders.
It was a night filled with adversity for quarterback Cole Anseeuw, who left the game injured in the waning moments of the first half after being slung to the turf in what was deemed a roughing-the-passer penalty. He later returned and wound up accounting for two rushing majors on the game.
The Crusaders will try to capture the program’s first triple-A title since 2019.
The Division 1 championship will serve as the season’s rubber match between Dakota (8-1) and St. Paul’s (8-1), who fielded the top-two offences and defences in the province this year.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.