Chance Miller of the Neelin Spartans carries the ball during an exhibition football game against the Belcourt (N.D.) Braves on Friday afternoon at the Neelin football field. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Robert Cullen feels much better about his Neelin Spartans football team after their exhibition game against the Belcourt (N.D.) Braves on Friday.
The Spartans, who lost their first pre-season contest 28-7 in Langdon, N.D., overcame a 16-14 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Braves 24-22 at the Neelin field. Cullen liked the effort his team showed, especially in the final frame.
"I learned that we have the heart to come back from a deficit," he said. "I learned that our kids are actually players and they know what to do finally."
Neelin opened up a 14-2 lead on their American counterparts before giving up a pair of touchdowns. Joe Waters kicked a 32-yard field goal with 4:55 left in the game to give Neelin the lead. Dylan Minshull scored his second touchdown of the game with 55 seconds left to give Neelin an eight-point advantage. The Braves replied with a late touchdown, but Spartans defender Chance Miller deflected a pass to prevent a game-tying two-point convert.
Cullen wasn’t the only one who noticed a difference in the team. Minshull, who rushed for 117 yards on 16 carries, was impressed with the play of the entire offence.
"In the Langdon game, our offensive line was having troubles getting pressured, like holding their blocks and blocking them off the ball," he said. "Our receivers were making good plays, and Bryce Keilback, our quarterback, had a hell of a game today. I think he only missed two passes. We improved today and I feel confident going into the season."
Keilback went 6-for-10 in the air for 66 yards and rushed for 50 more. Quinton Hunter had six tackles and two interceptions on defence, while Keegan Herperger added nine tackles.
While Cullen liked what he saw on Friday, he wants to see his team continue to grow as it prepares to open the Winnipeg High School Football League season next week.
"Absolutely I see some room for improvement," he said. "We have to have some more commitment from other guys to get to practice and not taking days off and wanting to be here. We have a few things on offence to do and a few things on defence to do. Today we wanted to play everybody and we played every kid."
Meanwhile, the Crocus Plainsmen and Vincent Massey Vikings played a controlled scrimmage on Friday afternoon at Massey, as each team ran 45 plays, including five red-zone plays.
Vikings head coach Mike Steeves said there is still lots to work on before the season kicks off next week — like missed blocks, tackles and dropped balls —but he was impressed with how his team played.
"It was better than I expected," he said. "We had some guys missing and guys who had this and that to do, but the guys stepped up. We played awesome. Both teams were, even from the ref standpoint. There were no offsides. There was no false starts. It was crisp."
Plainsmen head coach Kevin Boyd also liked what he saw from his players. The Plainsmen offence looked to be firing on all cylinders with new starting running back Victor St. Pierre breaking a few long runs. Returning quarterback Ryan Baker and veteran receiver Taylor Maloney also appear to be on the same page.
Boyd liked his defence as well, although he still sees some areas to work on.
"There were things we did really well and there were things we didn’t," Boyd said. "I think our defensive line can get off the ball a little quicker. They swarmed really well today and tackled really well. … We really need to focus on developing our defensive backs and safeties. I think that’s where we’re going to go and with offence, it’s always timing and then conditioning."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 1, 2012