Springfield makes quick work of opposition

Sabres’ high school football regular-season undefeated streak stretches into third season

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The Winnipeg High School Football League enters its third week of the 2022 regular season with some familiar squads atop the standings and noteworthy streaks on the line.

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The Winnipeg High School Football League enters its third week of the 2022 regular season with some familiar squads atop the standings and noteworthy streaks on the line.

In its second full season since returning from a hiatus owing to the pandemic, the WHSFL features 36 teams across six divisions (five varsity, one junior varsity), some re-aligned from the ‘21 campaign.

Among those unaffected is Springfield Collegiate, which remains in Division 2 (Gustafson Division).

Formed in 2019, Springfield’s football program has taken the league by storm. The Sabres have yet to lose a regular-season game in their history, boasting an unblemished 16-0 mark.

RYAN STELTER / THE BRANDON SUN FILES

Formed in 2019, Springfield Collegiate's football program has taken the league by storm. The Sabres have yet to lose a regular-season game in their history.

The program fell just short of a championship in its inaugural season before graduating a large group of players during the lost season. In 2021, Springfield, like many other football programs across the province, had to hit the reset button with a relatively new squad, yet still went 7-0 en route to capturing the D2 crown.

“I don’t know — the stars aligned for us and we had a good season,” Springfield head coach Tom Walls said Tuesday.

“In the last couple of years, personally, as a coach, I found myself moving away from being concerned with strategy and X’s and O’s, and being more concerned with building teams and getting the kids to want to be around each other.”

Walls’ approach continues to breed success as Springfield hasn’t skipped a beat this year, carving up opponents to the tune of a 71-0 point differential and perfect record through two weeks in the seven-game schedule. The bench boss simply credited the school’s success to “good kids and good parents.”

“There’s more to it than that, obviously. We’ve got a really good staff of coaches who care about kids, but care about them in the right way where they don’t let them be sloppy and soft, but also don’t coach the way that we used to be coached, grabbing face masks and swearing at kids.”

Walls, a New York native who moved to Winnipeg 12 years ago, is in his 22nd season overall as a football coach. He moved to Oakbank after spending six seasons helping the program at Churchill High School, where he still teaches.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Springfield head coach Tom Walls formerly coached Churchill High's Bulldogs football team.

Springfield has 46 players on its roster this season but is led by a core group that includes defensive end Tom Barrett, safety Rylan Pats, guard Alex Witoski and quarterback Mason Harmatiuk, who Walls called a “gifted athlete.”

“He’s a neat kid… he runs like a deer and throws a very smart pass. He’s not a swashbuckler. He doesn’t force the ball.”

Harmatiuk is a dual-sport athlete, also excelling in lacrosse. He represented Manitoba at the Canada Summer Games in Niagara Falls, Ont., in August. While Walls believes his budding signal-caller will soon hear from American colleges to play lacrosse, Harmatiuk wants to pump the brakes as long as he can.

“I love both sports and I really don’t want to make a decision that I don’t have to. So for right now, it’s both of them that I’m really going at. As soon as it’s the off-season for one sport, it’s right to the other. But right now, I’m locked in on football.”

Locked in he is. Harmatiuk boasts a 9-0 record as a starter.

“It’s really our philosophy,” said the quarterback, only in Grade 11. “There’s so many guys that we trust to have the ball, it’s really hard for a defence to stop three, four, maybe even five different guys who can consistently get the ball and get yards every game.”

“You can’t plan for that, right?”

Nearly as sure-fire as death and taxes, St. Paul’s is once again a tough program to plan for, in its own right.

The Crusaders have won three of the past five varsity Div.1 crowns, the last one coming 2019, and are primed to return to glory again this season.

“I think what has certainly has helped us — and I’d like to think has helped other teams, as well — is a more regular kind of offseason,” said St. Pauls head coach Stacy Dainard, in his 20th season heading the program. “The fact (it) could be more regular, more predictable, helped, for sure.”

“The pandemic is not necessarily over, but people are more comfortable being active and stuff. So, we’ve had an increase in number of students interested in playing and coming out.”

The Crusaders are 2-0, tied with Dakota Lancers atop the Potter Conference, while the 2021-champions Vincent Massey Trojans are 1-1.

Among their seemingly never-ending pool of talent, the powerhouse program boasts three players this season who hit the ground running. Linebacker Dario Macchia, defensive lineman Izzy Opanubi and offensive lineman Kiernan McDonald, all in Grade 12, represented Manitoba at the 2022 Canada Cup in Kelowna.

“That extra experience, extra training, the exposure at a highly competitive tournament like the Canada Cup, certainly assisted those guys,” said Dainard. “And those guys have brought that back to our team.”

jfreysam@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam
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Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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