Commonwealth Stadium – Clear the track, here comes the Paul Kane Blues.
The undefeated runaway division two Miles conference champions steamrolled into the provincial playdowns with a locomotive desire to go the distance in high school football.
“We want it real bad, but we’ve got to keep working hard to do it,” said Aidan Purdon, a standout at running back in the 45-14 trampling of the Leduc Tigers in Friday’s final that also determined the second metro Edmonton Tier II provincial qualifier.
“We’ve got to look to the future now and put this behind us.”
Paul Kane heads to the Border City on Saturday to challenge the 2018 Alberta Bowl champion Lloydminster Barons, the Wheatland league title holders, in the 3 p.m. north semifinal.
The winner battles the Austin O’Brien Crusaders of the metro Edmonton division one Carr conference or the Mighty Peace league champion St. Joseph Celtics of Grande Prairie next Saturday for a berth in the Nov. 22 provincial showdown at Raymond.
“We’re going right into provincials ready for another win and another cup to bring home,” said quarterback Jacob King, an impact player against Leduc running for three touchdowns and throwing for two more.
“We’re the only St. Albert team right now in provincials and we have the whole city riding on us,” King added. “We want to make everyone proud.”
Week 10 of the Football Alberta Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) rankings list AOB (6-3) at No. 3, Lloydminster (8-2) is No. 4, the Celtics (9-2) are No. 5 and Paul Kane is No. 7.
Paul Kane is approaching provincials with pride and purpose after its eighth win without a loss.
“We have quite the team and we have a really good opportunity to do well in provincials. We go to Lloyd and as long as we’re not too banged up from this game we can do some good things,” said head coach Rob Strecker, who was cool, calm and collected during the post-game Playoff Cup presentation after some intense Jason Maas moments on the sideline during the final.
“It’s a relief because I know what it's like to lose these games (37-0 to the Strathcona Lords in the 2017 Miles’ final and 45-6 to Chuba Hubbard and the Bev Facey Falcons in the 2015 Carr final) and it’s not fun,” Strecker said. “If we had lost this game, it would’ve been tough, it would’ve been a bitter, bitter pill to swallow especially with the season we’ve had, but the team played awfully well. I’m so proud.”
Incentive was super strong to reverse last year’s 3-3-1 non-playoff showing into a championship winning season.
“We had failures in the past so we really wanted this and we worked hard for it all year and we deserved what we got,” said Purdon, a Grade 11 contributor to the cause in the final with 137 rushing yards on 17 carries, including a 41-yard TD, as well as six converts and a 27-yard field goal.
Suggestions that it was a rebuilding year were quickly squashed after Paul Kane started off league play in pool A of the joint division two Miles/division three Gilfillan conference regular season with wins of 28-7 against the dangerous Sturgeon Spirits (6-2) and 17-14 against the over-hyped St. Albert High Skyhawks (4-3).
“It says a lot about our character and our team bond that we had from the start,” said King, the team’s second-year starting quarterback as a 15-year-old in Grade 11. “We wanted to win this season and the only way to do that was to go 8-0 and we put the work in every day to do it and that’s what the outcome was. We had the athletes to win this game.
“Every single day that we’ve practiced come down to this moment.”
Strecker was confident Paul Kane would be better than expected: “When I saw the group of boys that were returning and the new recruits with the group of bantams coming in,” said the Paul Kane teacher. “But the cherry on top was myself finally convincing a number of the boys that have been with me in my phys-ed classes to come play football and try it and those guys, Ryan (Holmes) and Andrew Gargan and Roka (Phalen-Baker), were just difference makers and that’s what put us over the edge.
“A lot of teams thought we might be OK, but they didn’t know that these guys are going to be here and they just added so much to our football team. They’re great athletes and all three of them are great competitors and that’s what you need in football. You’ve got to be a good athlete, you’ve got to be able to compete and you’ve got to be able to play hard and it rubs off on the other guys too and that’s huge.”
'Big hits. Big plays'
In the final, Leduc was a tough foe to tame despite the 31-point margin of victory.
Leduc (5-2), a pool B team, entered the big game ranked ninth in Tier II after knocking off Sturgeon 29-14 in the semifinals.
“It was hard knocks the whole time,” Purdon said. “I have a whole lot of respect for them. Big hits. Big plays. It was an amazing game.”
Leduc struck first with a 60-yard catch and run scoring play down the sideline by Declan Mullin, the recipient of the Miles’ most valuable player award, on the team’s second series.
Daniel Mercado returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to the endzone, but an unnecessary roughness flag nullified the TD.
Paul Kane would later turn the ball over with King’s fumble at the Leduc 26.
The third series for Paul Kane started at the Leduc 37 and ended with King’s 15-yard TD with 1:15 left until quarter time. A key play was the pass interference call on Leduc against Phalen-Baker that put the ball at the 18.
The next TD by Paul Kane was set up by a Brayden Morris’ quarterback sack at the Leduc 15 on second down and on the following punt a Leduc penalty gave the Blues excellent field position at the 29. After an offside flag negated Purdon’s 21-yard run, a dump pass to Will Mah to the Leduc 11 was the last play of the first quarter.
On third and 11 at the 12, King rolled to his right and lobbed a pass to the far corner of the endzone for Phalen-Baker to snatch out of the air in coverage while facing the ball for the go-ahead TD and Paul Kane never looked back.
“The first quarter was very scary because we didn’t play as strong as we wanted to come out, but as soon as we scored that first touchdown we knew the momentum was going to favour us,” King said.
Late in the first half, Paul Kane moved the ball from the Leduc 42 with King doing the bulk of the running before setting for a 27-yard field goal by Purdon. However, Leduc was flagged on the play and the ball was moved down to the five and on second and goal King scored as Paul Kane led 21-7 at the break.
“At the half we went into the locker room and had a quick talk about momentum and keeping it 0-0 in our heads and we came out and got the win,” said King, who finished the final with 70 rushing yards on 15 carries and was 8-for-17 passing for 89 yards.
Pounding the ball
Paul Kane took the second half opening kick off and from its 41 pounded the ball with authority behind an overpowering offensive line as key runs by Purdon of 24 and 13 yards, plus a 16-yard catch and run by Jimmy Verdago, set the stage for King to capped off the drive with the one-yard TD.
“At the beginning of the second half I had a couple of good breakout runs and that kind of started to shift the momentum a little but for us,” Purdon said.
Paul Kane racked up 286 rushing yards overall on 41 carries, compared to 45 on 17 carries for Leduc.
“The first half Leduc threw some things at us and they slowed down our game plan, our power running, and then in the second half we said it’s what got us here so let’s keep at it and Aidan Purdon was the man. We saw that it was there and that just opened up other things for us and we took advantage of it,” said Strecker, Paul Kane’s field general since 2012.
Leduc didn’t throw in the towel down 28-7 as Mullin busted loose for another long catch and run TD on the next series after King’s third major of the night.
Mullin led Leduc in receiving yards with 135 on six catches while quarterback Lachlan Stevens was 11-for-20 passing for 203 yards.
“Leduc played a hard game. They played a lot better than we anticipated and that’s why we got punched in the mouth as soon as we came out in the first quarter. They’re a hell of a team. I give credit to them,” King said.
Paul Kane sealed the deal after Leduc completed a pass in punt formation, but was short of the first down marker and on the next play King hit Ty Bates down the sideline for a 35-yard TD with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
Purdon’s 41-yard TD run romp early in the fourth quarter was the exclamation mark to a dominating performance by arguably the man of the match.
“I had some good runs and some great blocks by the O-line. I took some low hits, high hits and straight arms, but I just tried to run hard,” said Purdon, 16, who closed out the championship with a 27-yard field goal with 4:14 to play.
Defensively, Mercado was credited with four tackles and Marshall Missins had three while Nik Stec and Cam Mah both recorded quarterback sacks.
As for the TSN turning point, “There really wasn’t one. There were just so many turning points all over the place,” said Purdon, who was thrilled to see the team come through in the clutch for the home of the Blues.
“I’m super proud. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. I’m super happy we did this for PK.”