Clash of the undefeated
Huskies, Vikings to meet in WHSFL Div. II final
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Eric Vincent’s recipe for a championship-calibre team has come together like many do, after a number of seasons and across a painful series of trial and error.
This year the formula has worked nicely, however, as the Sturgeon Heights Collegiate varsity football team hopes to put the icing on the cake in the Divison 2 championship.
The Huskies will face Vincent Massey Collegiate (Brandon) in the title game on Wednesday at IG Field (7:30 p.m.), where the division’s two undefeated squads will do battle for the first time this season. Before they take centre stage, the Division 3 championship between Dryden and Kildonan East will kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday will also feature a double-header at IG Field as the Winnipeg High School Football League season comes to a close. Dakota Collegiate and Oak Park High School collide in the junior varsity championship at 1 p.m. before an epic tilt between Dakota and St. Paul’s High School at 4 p.m. will crown the Division 1 varsity provincial champion.
Vincent’s method depended on the Huskies’ ability to stay healthy in the nine weeks leading up to the WHSFL championship.
“We knew at the beginning of the year that we had a good team,” said Vincent, in his 10th year heading Sturgeon Heights’ varsity program. “And just looking at the way that the year was going to pan out, our focus for the whole year was we knew we needed to finish in the top eight out of 12 to be in the playoffs. So the focus became, ‘How much can we improve over the course of the year and how healthy can we stay throughout the year?’”
“It’s not about how good or healthy we are in August or September, it’s about what our team looks like in the second week of November.”
Vincent said his staff took an enhanced approach to the players’ strength and conditioning in the offseason and did what he calls “pre-hab” work throughout the season. The preventative regimen meant two recovery-focused workouts each week before practice to ensure his players were as fresh as possible and in the best position to avoid injury, while rarely spending more than 90 minutes at a time on the practice field.
“The focus was on the efficiency of what we were doing and making sure that come November, we wanted zero injuries on the team. That if our entire team was still playing healthy in November, and on top of that, hadn’t had any loss in terms of strength or speed or agility, that would be the biggest thing that could separate us from other programs,” Vincent said.
It would appear there was method to Vincent’s madness, as the Huskies own no injuries heading into Wednesday’s tilt.
Sturgeon Heights will look to capture its first varsity championship banner since 2015, and third since 2008, when the Huskies fielded four future CFL players.
“I feel like it would feel really special to me,” said Mason Thorn, a team captain and running back for the Huskies. “Football is something that I hold close to me because it’s been a big part of me for a long time, I’ve played for most of my life. If I could just bring the title back and do that with my team and some of my closest friends, I think that would just be really special for me and this school.
“I’m pretty confident because we are undefeated but so is Vincent Massey. I know they’re a good team. Their offence is really good, so is their defence. But I’m really confident in my team’s abilities to outperform them.”
Thorn is one of 17 seniors in the Huskies’ starting lineup (nine on offence, eight on defence). Statistically, Sturgeon Heights was the top program between the two Division 2 conferences (Gustafson, Vidruk) during the regular season, accumulating 244 points on offence while fielding a stingy defence that allowed 35 points (both the best in the division).
Vincent Massey were no slouches, however, posting 201 points for and conceding just 53 over the eight-game regular season (both ranked second).
“I think just spreading the ball,” Thorn said of the offence’s success this season. “I know a lot of teams, the ball might be kind of spread around but it’s mainly just one player who would have all the scores. All the scores on our team are pretty diverse. There are like six or seven different people on our offence with a touchdown. The ball is spread around pretty well so teams have to account for everyone on our offence and not just one player, like some other teams.”
Vincent said his team did things “the Patriot way” this season — a mantra coined by past players of the NFL’s New England Patriots — being overly critical of themselves and never satisfied with their performances.
“We know that going into this game we’re the underdogs,” Vincent said. “Everyone’s said Vincent Massey plays in a stronger conference and that they could’ve put up more points. But we’re the underdogs in this game and I’m perfectly fine with that. Our biggest advantage all year, I think, is that we play every single game like we’re the underdog.
“At the end of this game, someone’s going to be 9-1 and someone is going to cap a 10-0 season with a championship. Hopefully it’s a huge turnout. It’s going to be one hell of a football game.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.
Updated on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 9:33 AM CST: Adds web headline