Crusaders and Marauders football programs back on the field

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald St. Mary Marauders quarterback Brady Robin runs a play during a controlled scrimmage with the Carlton Crusaders on Friday afternoon at Max Clunie Field.

SSSAD season starts this week

Friday’s controlled scrimmage between the Carlton Crusaders and the St. Mary Marauders might have been the most eagerly awaited meeting between the two football teams.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both squads have been unable to play since the conclusion of the 2019 Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate season.

That long wait will finally end this week as the two sides will open up their regular season slates.

“I was talking to one of my administrators recently and I told them I felt like I was out of coaching shape,” Marauders head coach Curt Hundeby joked. “We’re taking things one step at a time right now but we’re excited about the young group of guys that we have as they are out here playing a sport that they know and love.”

“A lot of days have passed since there was a high school football game on this field, so it’s pretty exciting to be out here again,” Crusaders head coach Lindsay Strachan added. “We’ve been going hard in practice for about two weeks now and this is a nice reward for these guys as they get to line up against a different team.”

When each program last suited up, they were coming off trips to their respective SSSAD Division finals.

The Crusaders won the Division III championship on Oct. 25, 2019 with a 35-14 win over the Bedford Road Redhawks in Saskatoon, while the Marauders reached the Division II title game but lost a 38-28 road contest to the Aden Bowman Bears.

“It almost feels like we’re starting over the program, especially in terms of the learning that needs to happen during training camp,” Strachan said. “We’re very light on Grade 11 and 12 players, but we have a ton of Grade 9 and 10 players that will be stepping into our team and adapting to the steep learning curve that comes with playing high school football.”

“This is a different year because instead of teaching all of the terminologies to a handful of new guys, you are doing that with the majority of the team,” Hundeby added.

“When you look at our roster this year, we only have three players that were with us in 2019. Everyone’s learning how to be part of a team right now and we’re trying to move in small steps before we start to run a little bit.”

While the roster turnover is dramatic, both coaches are pleased about what they have seen during the first weeks of practice.

“We’re not a large group but we have a really good group of leaders that are passionate about football,” Hundeby said. “They have already been leading both on and off the field and we’re going to be leaning on those Grade 12 players to start the season.”

“We have a young team but I feel like we have one of the most athletic groups here in a while,” Strachan added. “They’ve been soaking up everything we have been trying to teach them over the last couple of weeks and it’s been a real pleasure for us to work with them. They are great kids.”

The Marauders will open up their season at Max Clunie Field on Thursday as they’ll welcome Bedford Road for a 6:30 p.m. contest.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders will travel to Saskatoon on Friday for a 3 p.m. meeting with the Tommy Douglas Tigers before hosting the Bethlehem Stars at Max Clunie Field on Friday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

“I feel like this is going to be a super tough season to predict, especially in terms of what everyone has coming back,” Strachan said. “I think it will be a pretty interesting year.”

“If there’s ever been a season with a whole bunch of unknowns, this is it,” Hundeby added. “I’m sure the strong schools will be strong once again, but you just never know until the games start happening.”

The annual Canadian Tire Classic between Carlton and St. Mary is slated to be held at Max Clunie Field on Friday, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m.

The two sides played to a 27-27 tie in their 2019 regular season meeting, but it was the Marauders that took home the trophy the following week with a 23-11 triumph in a SSSAD playoff seeding game.