ST. PAUL – The reigning champion of the Wheatland Bantam Football League (WBFL), started the season strong with a 33-6 victory over the Lloydminster Chargers on Sept. 9. It was the first game of the WBFL regular season for the St. Paul Bengals.
Derek Zapisocki, the head coach of the Bengals, said that at halftime, the Bengals were already up 20-0. “Everything we practiced, [the Bengals] executed.” That drive continued until the end of the match.
When asked if the win would help the Bengals’ confidence moving forward, Zapisocki said that any victory always boosts players’ confidence.
With many veteran players for the bantam team moving on to play with the older Lions’ team this season, Zapisocki acknowledged there could be challenges. But “We got a good group of vets from last year that are leading,” he said.
In addition, the new players show promise with their athleticism, which Zapisocki said will be an asset for the team.
Next up for the Bengals is a game against neighbouring rivals the Bonnyville Bandits. The game is set for Sept. 16, in St. Paul at 1 p.m. Zapisocki encourages the community to come out and show their support at the team’s home opener.
It could be a tough game, acknowledged Zapisocki. “We played them in spring at the jamboree and we were pretty equal,” he said. But if the Bengals remember to play hard, focus, “not worry about anything else... everything should go good.”
Meanwhile, the St. Paul Lions have been busy preparing for their regular football season.
On Aug. 30, the Lions played the Ardrossan Bisons in an exhibition game, with the Bisons beating the Lions 41-28.
“We had our moments... and it was 8-8 at end of the first half... then the wheels kind of fell off. We had a few couple of injuries and [the Bisons] were able to pull away from us,” said Mark Tichkowsky, head coach for the Lions. “We weren’t able to win that one.”
The Bisons were the same team the Lions defeated last year to claim the North Championship, earning themselves a spot at provincials.
On Sept. 8, the Lions also played and defeated Prince Albert in another exhibition match, claiming the victory 41-28.
When asked if the team is feeling confident with the upcoming season, Tichkowsky said, “It’s one of those things where we just don’t know.”
The Lions are preparing hard and trying to get ready as best as possible, but it is difficult to surmise where the team is at. “We’ll get some video footage... see what other teams are doing, and where they’re at,” said the coach.
The Lions will especially be keeping watch of the Holy Rosary Raiders and the Cold Lake Royals, said Tichkowsky. “It’s not that we’re looking past any other teams, because our league is always tough and does well at the provincials,” he said, which speaks well to the football program that runs in the Wheatland Football League.
Speaking of challenges, the Lions are making adjustments and working to fill in key roles that were vacated by last year’s Grade 12 students who have now graduated from high school, said Tichkowsky.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments in different areas and hopefully that pays off in the long run.”
However, he said that the overall speed and athleticism of the team provides an advantage.
The Lions’ first game for the Wheatland Football League will take place on Sept. 15 against the Bonnyville Voyageurs at the St. Paul Regional High School football field.