At first glance, tonight’s Winnipeg High School Football League playoff battle between the Neelin Spartans and Kenora’s Beaver Brae Broncos will come down to a clash of the Dylans.
Neelin’s Dylan Minshull led the Andy Currie (A) Division by amassing a record 1,430 yards on 160 carries this season, while Beaver Brae’s Dylan Pykerman was second with 1,013 yards on 75 carries. But Spartans head coach Robert Cullen said his team is about more than just their star running back as they prepare for tonight’s semifinal clash at Winnipeg’s East Side Eagles field.
"Their coach is talking about how their running back is the best running back in the league and how they are going to be the champions of the Currie Division … but we’re not about individuals, so we’re just going to go play a football game," Cullen said.
"I’m not sure if we’ll run it down their throats or whether we’ll open up the passing game because they leave the flats wide open. So we’re just going to go and play the game of football and we’re going to be athletes and try to win a ball game."
The Spartans posted a 7-1 record this season, edging the 4-4 Broncos 10-4 in stormy conditions in their lone regular-season meeting in Kenora, Ont.
"We played them on a field that wasn’t regulation size, we played them in five different types of weather," Cullen said. "It rained, it hailed, it snowed, it was a blizzard, it was a whiteout and then it was sunny. It was a gong show, as you say."
With league rules preventing Neelin from hosting a home playoff game, Cullen said his team has adopted the East Side field and Canad Inns Stadium as their new homes for the playoffs. Neelin looked right at home at Canad Inns in last week’s quarter-finals, blanking the Daniel McIntyre Maroons 53-0 for their fifth shutout of the season, while Beaver Brae edged Elmwood 9-6.
"It’s not a neutral site, it’s our home field," Cullen said. "For the playoffs we were told we couldn’t host it out here, which is fine. So that is our home field, we are going in as the home team and we will try to maintain our five shutout bids at home."
Meanwhile, Brandon’s Vincent Massey Vikings (5-2-1) will face the first-place Grant Park Pirates (8-0) in the Kas Vidruk (AA) Division semifinals on Thursday night at the East Side Field. Massey is coming off of a 15-0 shutout of the Kildonan East Reivers in last week’s quarter-finals, while the powerhouse Pirates pounded the Maples Marauders 44-7.
While they will be considered the underdogs, it’s a role that Vikings head coach Mike Steeves said his team relishes.
"I think Brandon teams get to play that a bit more because we’re the small-town guys and I don’t know if any of our football clubs out here have earned any respect, so I think most games we go into, we’re that underdog," said Steeves, who is working on a game plan to keep the Pirates attack at bay.
"If you look at the film and you’ve seen them play, they’re really in a sense a one-trick pony. They have the one running back (Michael Ritchott) who had something like (21) touchdowns, so if you can keep him controlled and contained a little bit, it gives you a chance. And in our first match against them (a 49-25 loss in Winnipeg), we were missing three key defensive players and we weren’t able to hold them back and we’re hoping to do that this time."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 31, 2012