By Greg Price
The W.R. Myers Rebels set the tone early in its Southern Alberta High School Football League regular season opener against the Catholic Central Cougars in a convincing 35-0 shutout on Friday night on the road.
Any doubts the Rebels would be able to compete against its higher-tiered opponent were quickly erased when tailback Denzel Gross ripped off a 40-yard run on the second play from scrimmage.
“We were looking at this game as kind of a measuring stick. Catholic Central is a Tier II school by population, which is two levels above us, and they have a lot of talent. But if my boys were intimidated, they certainly didn’t show it,” said Jason Jensen, head coach of the W.R. Myers Rebels football team. “We challenged the players before the game to make a decision whether we were going to win or lose, because against a team that draws from more than three times the population, and has a roster with at least a dozen more players, you don’t win on talent alone. You win with will, and you win with teamwork.”
The Rebels were not able to convert on that promising opening drive, but a stifling defence forced a two and out to get the ball back. Two series later, Gross found the endzone on another 40-plus yard run, and the Rebels rolled from there.
The defence was lights out, as the Rebels held the Cougars to only one first down in the first half. The offence was not to be outdone, and strung together a couple of long drives, successfully converting on several third down attempts, before Gross scored again, this time on a six-yard run.
“Those third down conversions really showed the will these boys had to win. Controlling the ball like that, combined with constantly holding them to two- and-outs, and forcing turnovers can frustrate and even break a team. We saw it happening towards the end of the first half, with the Cougars starting to look undisciplined, and taking penalties,” said Jensen. “When we went into the locker room at half-time, the coaches stressed to keep the pressure and tempo up, and not to give them a chance to get back in it, since their coaches were sure to be making half-time adjustments.”
The Cougars did show some pushback after half-time, marching up the field on a long halfback pass, but the defence forced a turnover on the 25-yard line.
Three plays later, quarterback Mike Sawatzky connected with receiver Brett Andrus on a 55-yard touchdown pass.
“I’m pretty sure that was the point that killed any chance the Cougars had of getting back into the game,” said Jensen.
Sawatzky delivered another touchdown strike to Andrus late in the third quarter, and then scored a rushing touchdown of his own in the fourth to seal the deal. Sawatzky finished the day with 125 yards and two touchdowns through the air, to go with 101 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Tailback Denzel Gross had 103 rushing yards to go with two touchdowns, and receiver Brett Andrus had 105 total yards, and two receiving touchdowns.
Through the offensive barrage, the defence was just as dominant, holding CCH to five total first downs.
Defensive lineman Corny Howatt had a coming out party of sorts, with four tackles, one sack, and two fumble recoveries, all while blowing up plans in the offence’s backfield, seemingly on every play.
“Corny is pretty much the best soldier a coach could ask for, just a fantastic heart-and-soul guy who just loves to play, and it’s fantastic watching him tear it up like this,” said Jensen.
Linebackers Tyson Rasmussen and Kadin Reynolds contributed sacks of their own, and Denzel Gross also had a fumble recovery.
The defensive secondary were their regular ball-hawking selves, with Brett Andrus, Johnny Tams, and Quinn Bailey each coming up with an interception.
“When these boys can force six turnovers, sack the quarterback three times, and hold a team to only five first downs in a whole game, against a strong opponent, I can’t ask for much more effective play than that,” said Jensen. “The whole game was a pretty awesome display of teamwork, in all three phases of the game, and as a coach, that’s what really makes me proud.”
The Rebels now prepare for its home opener at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park this weekend. The Rebels battle Rundle College Cobras at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“Rundle is another tough test for us. We faced them in the provincial quarterfinal last season, and they gave us all we could handle,” said Jensen. “They’re provincially ranked again this season, so I expect them to be just as good, if not better than they were last year. This should be a good game, and I’m looking forward to it.”