If there’s strength in numbers, the Creighton Kodiaks football team looks stronger than ever. Not long after only hitting the field with a roster in the low teens for players, the team now boasts around 30 people suiting up this season.
“We do have a lot of younger and smaller guys, but we’re putting in a good effort in practice here. It'll be fun for us,” said senior Haiden Kanto-Lengyel. Mostly used on defence, Kanto-Lengyel will be looked to as a leader on a young Kodiaks team.
Kodiaks head coach Ryan Karakochuk said he was pleased with the size of this year’s roster, adding it may expand further before the team’s first game.
“We’re expecting a couple more guys that haven’t made it out yet. We might hit our highest number ever. It’s good to see. We have a cross mix of young and old. We're mostly younger, but at the same time, our future looks good for the next four years. As a coach for our program and developing kids. I couldn't be more pleased.”
The calling card for this year’s Kodiaks team will be their offence, led by third-year quarterback Blake Alexander. The QB heaped praise on the team’s offensive attack, including the team’s offensive line.
“Our line looks so much stronger this year. I'd say that was our weakest link last year and I think it's probably one of our strongest this year for sure,” said Alexander.
Alexander and his receivers will be leaned on more heavily this year, as Karakochuk hopes an experienced offence can pay dividends.
“We need more big plays this year. We didn’t have enough last year. It’s good to grind games out, don’t get me wrong, but you’ve got to play with your personnel. When we have speedsters, we’ll throw it,” said the coach.
“We’ve got a quarterback who can throw - why not throw it?”
As always, the team’s goal is to reach the Ralph Pilz Trophy game in Prince Albert - in essence, the northern Saskatchewan regional championship. The winner of that game goes on to provincial conference games against stronger, more established southern programs.
This year, there will be a playoff game to determine who makes it to Prince Albert. Instead of just having the top two teams battle it out, the top four teams will have a play-in round to see who makes it in.
“We have a chance to make a boo boo off to start the year, and that won't affect us as much there. We need to be good off the start, but we need to learn as much as we can and get better and better by the time we hit our playoff game,” Karakochuk said.
“I would be lying if I said every year I don't come into a season and think that we can win the north, but this year, I look around the league and our competition and I say, ‘Why can’t we win the north?’”
Before the playoffs comes the regular season, a season that will be shortened from five games to four to accommodate the new playoff structure. The team begins with a matchup against the Pinehouse Lakers Sept. 11 before returning home to play Sandy Bay Sept. 18. The Kodiaks will then head south to face the reigning champion Cumberland House Islanders Sept. 25 before ending the regular season with a home rematch against Pinehouse Oct. 2.
Both Alexander and Kanto-Lengyel have the game against Cumberland circled on their calendars. Last year, a powerhouse Cumberland team - at one point, they beat an opponent 100-0 - came to Creighton and fought a battle for the ages. With the score at 16-12 Cumberland and mere seconds left on the clock, Creighton marched down the field and set up a potential game-winning drive. However, the team came up just short, turning the ball over on downs within 10 yards of the endzone.
“That was a heartbreaker,” said Alexander, who was the team’s quarterback that day and just missed a receiver on third down on what would have been a game-sealing touchdown.
“It was a low scoring game, a defensive showdown, and we had great offense but just couldn't come through. I’m so looking forward to them coming here again this year.”
Karakochuk is looking at the team’s home opener against Sandy Bay as a make-or-break matchup.
“This year, we get Sandy Bay at home. We know that they have one absolute beast on their team, so we're going to have to be aware of him. With Cumberland, you know they've won it the last two years. Obviously when we go there, we need to we need to bring our A game.”