ST. PAUL – On Nov. 18, two dominating teams faced off in the bantam 9-a-side Tier 1 championship in St. Paul.
After the St. Paul Bengals defeated the Edmonton Seahawks, and the Grande Prairie Broncos defeated the Bonnyville Bandits, the date was set for the Bengals and Broncos to meet in St. Paul for the provincial championship.
Immediately on Saturday afternoon, the Bengals took the lead in the first quarter, with running back Patrick Sesay (#24) scoring the first touchdown, eventually ending the first quarter with a seven-point lead.
The game heated up in the second quarter, with the Bengals scoring another touchdown, and the Broncos quickly responding with one of their own – closing the lead 21-7.
Halfway through the quarter, a play by the Bengals allowed Sesay to score another touchdown with just two minutes left on the clock. With the Broncos trying to close the gap, they scored their second touchdown, ending the second quarter 34-17, in favour of the Bengals.
During the third quarter, the Broncos attempted to score, as the Bengals’ defensive line halted any attempts to close the gap. The Broncos defense also proved to be an impenetrable wall during the quarter, and they managed to close the gap, 34-21 to end the quarter.
Finally, with just about nine minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter, an offensive play by the Bengals widened the gap, allowing Sesay to score another touchdown for the Bengals, plus the extra point.
In response, the Broncos rushed down the field for a touchdown, closing the gap, 41-28. With five minutes left on the clock, the Broncos broke through the Bengals’ line to score another touchdown, 41-35.
The Broncos needed another touchdown to tie the score, but the Bengals’ defense held on. Another two extra points from the Bengals ended the game with a 43-35 victory – and the provincial cup.
Sesay, who scored all six touchdowns for the Bengals, spoke to Lakeland This Week post-game. He admitted it was a tough game against the Broncos.
“Good job on them for not giving up till the end,” said Sesay, before acknowledging the Bengals’ offense and defense for not faltering and making some great plays.
For Sesay, who will be moving up to play with the high school Lions next year, the victory is a great way to say goodbye to his time with the bantam team.
“I feel accomplished... no losses this season,” he said, before encouraging the next batch of players who will be playing for the Bengals. “Just keep it going for the next years. Don’t give up and play hard every game.”
Junior Ndose (#98), who played defensive end for the Bengals, also acknowledged it was a tough game against the Broncos. But the teammates kept motivating each other, “To keep going and not giving up.”
Ultimately, that mentality led them to victory. “[It] feels good being back-to-back champions,” said Ndose.
Derek Zapisocki, who became the new head coach of the Bengals this season, said the team knew it was going to be a tough battle against the Broncos prior to the championship. “They got close at the end there, but [the Bengals] dug in deep.”
As the Bengals celebrated their win nearby, Zapisocki looked on at the junior high athletes with pride. “They’ve done everything we’ve ever asked of them all year. They played great. It’s a special group of kids.”
Special win for former head coach
For over 20 years, Todd Tanasichuk has coached teams within the St. Paul football program – 18 of those years were spent as a head coach. He coached the St. Paul Lions for 12 years from 2003 until 2015. There was also a year when he coached the Bengals between those years, prior to becoming the bantam team’s head coach in 2015, wrapping up the 2022 season with a Wheatland Bantam Football League championship.
Tanasichuk told Lakeland This Week that Saturday’s victory was very special.
“First time in 40 years we’ve won provincial championships in a row,” he said.
“A fantastic job done by Head Coach [Zapisocki] and our Defensive Coordinator Brady Fodness. And a gutsy effort by our players. We’ve had moments in the playoffs where it looked like we were going to lose, but each time they dug deep to make the necessary plays at the end.”
St. Paul Lions
On Nov. 18, the St. Paul Lions made the long trip to Grande Prairie to take on the Sexsmith Sabres, on their journey to a provincial championship.
The Lions won 29-20 to claim the North Championship for Tier IV high school football and will now move on to the Alberta Bowl on Nov. 24 in Red Deer against the Drumheller Titans.
Last year, the Lions also faced the Titans for the provincial championship, but the Lions lost 22-21.
This is the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Lions have reached the provincial final.