Five provincial football champions were decided on Saturday, when the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association held its gold-medal games on assorted fronts.
The Miller Marauders (6A 12-a-side), Weyburn Eagles (5A 12-a-side), Lumsden Devils (4A nine-a-side), Clavet Cougars (2A six-a-side) and Hafford Vikings (1A six-a-side) emerged victorious to complete their 2023 seasons.
As the celebrations endure at the various schools and in their communities, Riderville.com takes a closer look at each provincial-championship team:
The representative of Regina’s Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School could have enlisted the drama program en route to winning a third consecutive SHSAA title.
Miller won the Regina Intercollegiate Football League’s Schwann Conference (6A) title by outlasting the LeBoldus Golden Suns 27-20 in triple overtime on Nov. 3 at Mosaic Stadium.
The Marauders emerged from another nailbiter on Saturday, edging the Holy Cross Crusaders 12-10 in the SHSAA final at SMF Field in Saskatoon.
“We were able to have a great game at the end to finish it off,” Miller head coach Jason Duczek said.
Miller scored the winning points with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter, registering a tie-breaking safety touch.
Holy Cross had been pinned back on its one-yard line after a Brady Vindevoghel punt went out of bounds inches away from the goal line.
In addition to the two game-changing points, Miller was awarded the football on its 35-yard line. Needing a first down to cement the outcome, the Marauders came through when Vindevoghel found Tanner Donovel for a 52-yard completion.
Vindevoghel quarterbacked Miller to a provincial title for the second straight season. In 2022, he was behind centre when Miller defeated the Saskatoon St. Joseph Guardians 34-20 at Leibel Field in Regina.
Duczek referred to Vindevoghel as “the commander-in-chief” of the offence in addition to dispensing plaudits to the team as a whole.
“It’s just a great group of kids,” the veteran head coach added.
“I’m really proud of how the players battled through. We had a lot of injuries this year. We had a roster of 59 players and not once did we dress them all.”
In the provincial final, Miller jumped to a 10-0 lead on the strength of a 27-yard TD pass from Vindevoghel to Donovel.
Holy Cross battled back and ultimately tied the game at 10-10 with 2½ minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Elias Flory threw an eight-yard TD pass to Britton Tabler.
Tabler caught 11 passes for 148 yards. Donovel gained 110 yards on six receptions. Vindevoghel was 12-for-19 for 188 yards.
MEET THE MARAUDERS
Players: Marcus Adams; Alex Andrei; Carter Ashman; Jackson Ashman; Deng Atem; Sam Bashnick; Bostin BeBeau; Adonis Bobetsis; Kove Buchinski; Ty Briere; Xavier Camacho; Carson Campbell; Alex Curle; Mike Cyr; Thomas Dielschneider; Noah Digney; Tanner Donovel; Liam Dunnison; Jason Esonu; Noah Finkeldey; Jackson Gelinas; Jackson Grace; Isaac Griffin; Jair Gyamfi; Nitro-Ice Hanna; Rylan Holmberg; Thomas Kaluza-Hughes; Kingston Isaac; Simon Kerr; Ben Kostiuk; Eli Lahaye; Blake Laidlaw; Jack Law; Jack MacLeod; Kyle Magnien; Luke Magnien; Mark Magnien; Blake Makowsky; Carlos McArthur; Hayden McLeod; Chase Murray; Quinn Naylen; Alex Norminton; Riley Olson; Koen Petryna; Jacob Philpot; Liam Platt; Tristen Rapchalk; Emmett Reinhardt; Axton Seiferling; Noah Selinger; Cohen Sim; Holden Strinja; Ethan Thomas; Corbyn Thompson; Carlos Villamil; Brady Vindevoghel; William Weisbeck; Dylan Woodman; Brayden Wolf; Parker Zimmermann.
Coaches: Jason Duczek (head coach); Chris Ashman; Matthew Erichsen; Darren Finkeldey; Benji Hazen; Jordan Hibbert; Gene Makowsky; Jaeden Marwick; Clayton Murray; Jay Perkowitsch; Kevin Peyson; Tim Seiferling.
Trainers: Teagan Boos; Maya Campbell; Rachel Curle; Nancy Duczek; Maylyan Mann; Sienna Peterson; Stefania Shmalko; Anna Tsougrianis; Hudson Walby.
Statisticians: Sharlene Holliday; Stephanie Meuchel; Daphne Robertson.
Chaplains: Joshua Campbell; Sharlene Holliday.
The Eagles won a provincial championship for the third time, having previously prevailed in 2007 and 2021.
The latest clincher took place when Weyburn, before a hometown crowd at Darold Kot Field, downed Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman Bears 35-15 in the 5A final to complete an undefeated season.
Weyburn finished the job after losing an 18-15 heartbreaker to the host Bishop Mahoney Saints in the 2022 provincial championship game, played in Saskatoon.
“We came home with a silver medal last year, which is certainly outstanding,” Eagles head coach Jody Kerr said. “A lot of teams would love a medal.”
That said, the Eagles’ players and coaches resolved to change the colour of the keepsake in 2023.
“We talked about ‘redemption’ as one of our key words this year,” Kerr said.
“To get back to the provincial final and win it all, we knew we had to put everything into it.”
That message was reinforced, loud and clear, when the Eagles first hit the Weyburn Comprehensive School practice field in August.
“It was amazing to see the time that everyone put in,” Kerr marvelled. “From Day 1, our guys were determined. If any of the younger players were jogging during practice, our veterans would let them know what was expected. The message was, ‘We are a championship team on Day 1.’ ”
They were formally recognized as such on Saturday, when Conner Kerr (the head coach’s son) quarterbacked the Eagles to victory in his final game of high school football.
Kerr rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns in addition to completing a 28-yard scoring pass to Nolan Uhren.
Weyburn also got rushing majors from Owen Istace (who gained 136 yards along the ground) and Spencer Bell. Chace Kradovill was the Eagles’ defensive leader, registering three sacks.
Those efforts were applauded by several hundred Eagles fans, who were lined up four deep around the field. Adding to the atmosphere, there was also a sizeable contingent of Aden Bowman supporters, many of whom travelled to Weyburn via chartered bus.
“The community loves this team and when something happens (like a provincial final), they’re the first people to jump on board and be part of those special moments,” Kerr said.
The special moments were not restricted to the football field on Saturday.
Also in Weyburn last weekend, the Eagles played host to a regional qualifying event for the SHSAA 5A girls volleyball championship.
The Eagles senior girls volleyball team is now destined for Prince Albert, where the provincial tournament is to be held Friday and Saturday.
The Weyburn volleyball squad is coached by Jody Kerr’s wife (Andrea). The roster includes the Kerrs’ daughter, Zoe, so another Eagles team could very well celebrate a banner season.
“That’s what we’re working for,” Jody Kerr said.
MEET THE EAGLES
Players: Cashton Archibald; James Ashworth; Logan Ashworth; Carson Baumgartner; Jack Bell; Spencer Bell; Haydin Buehler; Jody Court; Kylan Cox; Rhylan Cox; Max Crane; David Cugnet; Trotter Drake; Kayden Duddy; Tyler Gillies; Ryder Goertzen; Kieren Hamel; Jayden Hartman; Jarret Hayward; Kayden Henheffer; Mac Istace; Owen Istace; Alex Junk; Conner Kerr; Asher Knox; Cooper Knox; Mekhi Kopec; Chace Kradovill; Liam Maloney; Ethan Matt; Connor McIndoe; Tace Odima; Markus Paquet; Isaiah Sanderson; Krish Sheth; Jacob Symes; Maddox Taillon; Landon Uhren; Nolan Uhren; Max Vennard; Brody Walter; Keaton Walter; Vaughn Wendel; Sam West; Elijah Woodend; Morgan Wozny.
Coaches: Jody Kerr (head coach); Darren Abel; Mike Hoffman; Chris Michel; Colton Neithercut; Kyle Paterson; Rob Umbach; Randy Uhren; Jordan Witzaney.
Trainer: Paul Sanderson.
Like Weyburn, Lumsden captured a provincial championship — its seventh — on home turf this past weekend.
Lumsden defeated the Shaunavon Shadows 38-14 in the SHSAA’s 4A nine-a-side gold-medal game.
“We had a huge group of seniors and they were dedicated and committed,” Lumsden head coach Luke Dunville said. “A lot of them were leaders.
“We talked a lot about accountability and integrity. The players kept an integrity log to keep track of the things they do that go above and beyond themselves to benefit others.
“Those are things like helping out the younger or new students, saying thank you to adults or teachers who go the extra mile for you, volunteering in the school or community, or taking part in school activities to show acts of leadership that build a positive culture in our school.”
Or just outside of the school, if needed.
Following a significant snowfall last week, Dunville sent a group text message, asking if players could help to clean off and spruce up the field before practice on Friday.
“They were out there with rakes, wheelbarrows and wagons,” the Devils’ head coach said. “I didn’t have to beg. They just got it.
“It’s part of their character. It goes beyond making plays and catches and tackles.
“We use football to develop the person.”
Lumsden’s football program was revived in 1996, when Darren Finkeldey was the head coach. Two years later, under Finkeldey, the Devils won their first provincial title — going undefeated in the process.
Under Dunville, who joined the coaching staff in 2002 and took over as the field boss the following year, Lumsden has captured SHSAA championships in 2009, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018 and, now, 2023.
Saturday was a memorable day for Dunville and Finkeldey. The latter coach is now an assistant with Miller, for which his son Noah is a defensive back.
Dunville was quick to thank his colleagues on the Devils’ coaching staff for their efforts this season, and in past years.
One of those coaches is defensive assistant Jason Johns — whose father, Al, was a defensive lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1980 to 1987.
At one point, Jason Johns promised the players that a pizza party would be held every time the Devils scored a defensive touchdown.
“He still owes our group four pizzas,” said a chuckling Dunville, referencing a backlog of pizza parties that has been created by the prevalence of interception-return and fumble-return TDs.
MEET THE DEVILS
Players: Adam Bishop; Layne Bitz; Brendan Cey; Carson Cey; Jaxon Dell; Jules DeMars; Jacob Ebenal; Sam Ebenal; Jessie Evans; Caden Gienow; Cash Grohs; Harmen Haase; Ethan Harrison; Kendal Hill; Blake Klemp; Jacob Kobayashi; Ryder Kohli; Jo Lamontagne; Kaiden Lindsay; Curran Martin; Blake McCaig; Brody McDonald; Nixin Mickleborough; Justus Mund; Jack Norton; Harley Nuttall; Reid Parker; Jackson Patterson; Frank Petryna; Jesse Petryna; Berkley Prokopetz; Oliver Raddysh; Carson Rose; Elias Scharf; Chase Scheller; Reid Scheller; Matthew Schindelka; Johnathon Schumann; Matthew Schumann; Hoyt Sebastian; Jack Seidlitz; Wyatt Seidlitz; Orestes Sophocleous; Aidan Stelter; Birk Stelter, Hartley Szeles; Kalman Szeles; Sam Thompson; Marko Tkatchuk; Eli Tuchscherer; Alfie Watts; Ty Welch; Ryder Wesson; Jayden Whitbread.
Coaches: Luke Dunville (head coach); Adin Clark; Doug DeMars; Connor Green; Jason Johns; Spencer Mack; Kelsey Peterson; Luke Robertson; Brian Skidmore; Lorne Wilson.
Manager: Carla Cooper.
Trainer: Sadie Howe.
Videographer: Jordan Gettis.
The Cougars also won a provincial title at home, defeating the Watrous Wildcats 46-40 before an estimated 1,000 spectators — roughly twice the population of Clavet Composite School’s home community.
The proximity of Watrous, which is a 45-minute drive from Clavet, also made the game easily accessible to Wildcats fans who turned out in full force for the 2A six-a-side thriller.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Cougars head coach Shaun Priel said.
“We have a really good rivalry with Watrous. It was a tremendous community event for both teams.
“Watrous is a really well-coached team. We knew it was going to be a hard week of work to get prepared for the game. The kids responded well.
“It was a battle from start to finish.”
The Cougars enjoyed a robust start when Jackson Shabatoski returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
He subsequently caught three TD passes from Waylon Blacklock, who ran for two scores of his own in addition to throwing to Hansen Varcoe for another major.
Brady Kazuska also had a stellar game, registering three interceptions to help the Cougars secure their eighth provincial title.
Priel has been the Cougars’ head coach for all eight of their championship seasons — seven in the six-a-side division (2007, 2008, 2009, 2017, 2018, 2022 and 2023) and one in nine-a-side (2014).
The football team has been modelled after a perennially successful basketball program that was established in Clavet by Kathy Maki — a 2015 recipient of the SHSAA Merit Award.
“We’ve kind of created a culture of success,” Priel said. “Kids want to be a part of it.”
Like every other coach who was interviewed for this story, Priel was quick to commend his assistant coaches. He works closely with Brian Harder (offensive co-ordinator), Brendan O’Reilly (defensive co-ordinator) and Rob Price (special teams).
“A big piece of it is that we’ve had the same coaches since 2005,” Priel said. “We’ve had consistency from top to bottom for so many years.
“I get to be the head coach, but the co-ordinators are fantastic. They do the heavy lifting on the team and put the kids in a position to be successful.”
MEET THE COUGARS
Players: Brent Badrock; Waylon Blacklock; Tyler Brakefield; Austin Bremmer; Trent Bremner; Cameron Derbyshire; Dalton Friesen; Kieran Gardner; Clark Goebel; Andrew Jakobsen; Brady Kazuska; Daymian Knihnitski; Nik Knihnitski; Maguire Knock; Aiden Lalonde; Isaac Legare; Vanin Leniuk; Jake Lindberg; Conner Little; Elijah McAra; Kaynan McAra; Ryan Morrison; Tiernan O’Dell; Sam Pitzel; Cole Prouse; Blake Quiring; Silas Robertson; Buster Schultz; Huxley Schultz; Jackson Shabatoski; Tyson Shabatoski; Hansen Varcoe; Luke Willison; Joey Yanke.
Coaches: Shaun Priel (head coach); Brian Harder; Brendan O’Reilly; Rob Price.
Manager: Karla Wenc.
The Vikings locked horns with the North Valley Eagles and ultimately won a 57-54 crowd-pleaser.
The Hafford Central School representative trailed by 11 points with two minutes left before scoring back-to-back touchdowns in the 1A six-a-side final, held on the North Valley High School Field in Lemberg.
The Vikings’ penultimate set up by Grade 9 running back Keegan Barnstable, who accounted for most of the team’s yards during a scoring drive that was punctuated by a one-yard quarterback sneak by his older brother, Hunter.
Hafford followed up with a key defensive stop to set the stage for the winning TD — a pass from Hunter Barnstable to Koen Cherwinski with 50 seconds left in the game.
It was the fifth TD reception of the game for Cherwinski, who caught a scoring pass from the only other Grade 12 on the youthful Vikings side — a teammate since Grade 5.
North Valley’s bid for a last-minute, game-winning TD was thwarted by Hunter Barnstable, who registered an interception with six seconds left.
“It was crazy,” said Ryan Barnstable, the Vikings’ head coach and the father of Hunter and Keegan.
Under Coach Barnstable, Hafford has won five consecutive provincial titles. The Vikings also won two SHSAA championships (in 1989 and 1991) before Barnstable took over as the head coach in 2012.
“It all starts with the buy-in from the kids,” he said. “They’re willing to do what we ask them to do — showing up consistently, training in the off-season, and playing as a team. They’ve seen it work so they know how a good team plays.”
Hafford, which has a population of 380, has a co-op agreement that also enables players from the Blaine Lake and Borden areas to suit up for the Vikings.
It was a joyous, 460-kilometre return trip for the Vikings after winning the classic contest against the Bob Mayo-coached Eagles.
“Lemberg did a wonderful job of hosting,” Barnstable said. “They have an excellent facility, there was a great crowd, and we played an awesome team.
“It was one of those games where there was no trash-talking. Everyone played a clean game. Both teams should be really proud of the way the boys played the game and conducted themselves.”
MEET THE VIKINGS
Players: Jessie Androsoff; Carter Autet; Hunter Barnstable; Keegan Barnstable; Bently Burletoff; Boh Burletoff; Talon Cheney; Koen Cherwinski; Gabe King; Brayden Mason; Liam McCormick; Ethan Mix; Ty Mix; Carter Prystupa; Cael Redhead; Isaiah Sanchez; Jacob Stonehouse; Sam Trudel; Allen Villanueva; Kamron Welsh.
Coaches: Ryan Barnstable (head coach); Chris Cherwinski; Carson Derksen; Ollie Marciniuk.
Manager: Tara Welsh.
Trainer: Jill Barnstable.
Videographer: Daxtyn Cherwinski.
Ball boy: Jaxon Barnstable.