The St. Albert Storm unleashed its full potential on the football field in Thursday's tier III final.
The team of Grade 9, 10 and 11 players scored a season-high 27 points and surrendered only one touchdown against the Sherwood Park Wolverines.
"Today we played to the best of our ability," Grade 10 linebacker Kieran Fraser said after the 27-7 triumph. "On offence we had good drives and lots of big plays. Defence was strong too. It was a fun game."
It marked the first championship in the Storm's four-year history in the Capital District midget spring league.
"Anytime you win a championship and they give you a trophy, it's a great thing," said head coach Mark Dobko. "I told these guys all the things that I had picked for goals has nothing to do with winning. It has to do with developing, getting better, becoming one team with four different schools and representing our organization well and we did that. This is gravy that we won. It beats the alternative."
Last year the Storm fielded teams in tier I and II and they combined to finish 2-9 overall, including a winless tier I record. The Storm's best season was their inaugural 4-3 campaign as 2006 tier I finalists.
"In years past we haven't done the best and this year we did good. Hopefully this win will make an impact next year. It tells kids that this program actually can do well and hopefully it will encourage more to sign up and play spring league football," said game star Brad Quartel, a Grade 11 slotback who rocked the Wolverines with three TDs.
After losing four in a row in the tier I division to finish in last place at 1-4, the Storm pulled together to beat the undefeated tier III leading Battle River Shock 24-7 in the semifinals.
"We've played better lately. There were a few games where we had a lot of injuries and that slowed us down," said Fraser, a junior standout with the Bellerose Bulldogs last year who played for the Storm's tier II team.
Last month the Wolverines beat the Storm 15-11 in the first game staged at the new football field at Riel Recreation Park.
"We didn't play to the best of our ability. We definitely could've beat them," said Fraser, the junior Bulldogs' recipient of the 2008 sportsmanship and dedication team award.
A bone-chilling arctic wind also wreaked havoc with the Storm's game plan.
"We need to throw the ball and that wasn't a day we could do that. The wind was fierce and you just couldn't control how far you were throwing. It was a beautiful night here tonight and Nick Brenneis threw the ball well," Dobko said. "Our heads weren't into it either because of all the hoopla surrounding the field. Tonight we were mentally more prepared. At the last practice I said work hard and do what you're supposed to do. They did that and I'm proud of the boys. You always want to finish the season with a win."
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Storm led 14-7 at halftime and 20-7 after three quarters. Quartel was on the receiving end of two TD throws by Brenneis and ran for another score. Jean-Luc Bugeaud converted three TDs and in the third quarter kicked field goals of 27 and 21 yards.
"It was nice to end the season like this. It was a great team game," said Quartel, a bantam product of the St. Albert 49ers who plays for the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds. "Defence did well to hold them to seven points and they didn't let in any points in the second half. Offence came out strong. Nick was throwing the ball well. Second half we slowed down a little bit but the offence was still producing points."
In the first quarter the Storm relied on Spencer Duff to run the ball while mixing in some passes. On first down at the Park's 45 a bad call went against the Storm. Keegan Everett made a great catch coming across the middle and picked up extra yardage before he was tracked down. Everett was clearly down when the ball popped loose and the Wolverines recovered it at the 19.
Early in the second quarter Brenneis marched the offence into scoring range on passes to Mac Gray and Jeremy Rudko but the drive stalled with a turnover on downs at the Park's 25.
Quartel's first TD was a 38-yard pass and run with 6:30 left in the first half. Brenneis swung the ball wide to Quartel on the left side and the talented player found a lane going against traffic. He motored into the end zone untouched.
"That first one was the best. It got the game started off on a good tempo for the whole team," said Quartel, 17, an Edmonton Christian High School student who led the Storm in TDs with seven, even though the team was shutout twice in league play.
After the kickoff following Quartel's TD, the Wolverines went two-and out as Fraser and Adam Sturgess sacked the quarterback with a rush up the middle on second down.
Back on offence, on second down and nine, Brenneis rolled to his right and hummed a spiral with heat to Quartel. The Storm's most dangerous offensive threat got enough separation behind two defenders to reel in the ball with a nifty grab around the 20 to score with 3:22 left until halftime.
The Wolverines closed out the first half with a 13-yard quarterback draw in shotgun formation on third and goal. A roughing penalty against the Storm and a long pass completion put the Wolverines in scoring range.
In the fourth quarter Quartel's third TD was a seven-yard strike by Brenneis to his favourite receiver standing a foot inside the end zone on second down and six. A 26-yard run by Quartel set up the score.
In the second half the Wolverines struggled to gain first downs against a jacked-up Storm defence. Spearheading the charge was Fraser, linebacker Keaton Hoddinott and defensive end Mark Sutherland.
In the third quarter Joe Ur registered a key sack to put the Wolverines in punt formation. A couple of series later he recovered a fumble on a jarring hit by Fraser in prime field position that led the way to Bugeaud's second field goal.
"Defence was outstanding. Our defence was not going to let them beat us," Dobko said.
Fraser, 16, was exceptional with three sacks. The tenacious rugby player was constantly stirring up trouble in the Wolverines backfield. His aggressive play forced a couple of turnovers.
"It felt good to help the team out," said the leading candidate for the Storm's defensive player of the year award. "We had a lot of good blitzes on defence so everybody helped out. It really was a team thing."