Guardians pound the ball to beat Crusaders

St. Joseph Guardians’ linebacker Mason Dirham returns a punt during third-quarter action from Max Clunie field, Oct. 12, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Carlton Crusaders football team is now 2-4 after enduring a 39-6 loss to the visiting St. Joseph Guardians on Thursday night at Max Clunie field.

The Guardians pounded the ball on the ground and controlled much of game clock, relying on running back Keagan White’s 203 yards rushing on 15 carries, all of which he gained in the first half of the game.

“I think a lot of our players did good things. Offensively, we’re always trying to preach ‘control the things you can control,’” head coach Jared Nordick said after the win. “For us, that’s physicality, being aggressive and making sure we don’t make mistakes.”

The Saskatoon team found equal dependability in ball carrier Marlowe Willams: He gained 129 yards on 12 rushing attempts.

White scored two rushing touchdowns, while Williams scored one.

“Our running game is strong, so we like to get the ball moving on the ground and then it opens up the pass. If (defences) start keying in on one thing, we can shift to something else,” Nordick said.

The two teams played to an 8-0 score in the Guardians’ favour after the first quarter, thanks to a seven-yard rushing touchdown from White. His side also gained a single point on a missed field goal attempt from Jordan Hough.

“When he’s healthy, he’s scary. He might be one of the best running back I’ve ever seen,” Nordick said of White’s performance.

St. Joseph then poured it on in the second quarter: White notched another rushing touchdown while Williams scored his first on a one-yard run. The Guardians’ defence also forced Carlton quarterback Jacque Lavoie to concede a safety.

The score was 22-0 by halftime.

“We knew we were going to see a good team tonight. St. Joseph is kind of a perennial top four team in Saskatoon, so we knew that they were going to be solid,” Crusaders head coach Lindsay Strachan said after the game.

“Scheme-wise, it wasn’t anything exotic. They were just a good football team that kind of comes at you, and we knew that we needed to meet that challenge,” he said.

The Guardians’ defence stepped up in the third quarter of the game: Linebacker Mason Dirham nabbed a pick-six after intercepting Lavoie at Carlton’s 22-yard line and running the ball back for a score.

“Our goal the whole game was basically just to drive as hard as we can, and just try to push (Carlton’s offence) back as far as we can,” Dirham said after win.

“On defence, we were just doing our best out there,” he said.

The grade-11 student also scored an offensive touchdown as a slotback – quarterback Jaxon Stanford found Dirham on a 45-yard pass near the end of the quarter.

In between those two touchdowns, Lavoie connected with receiver Brandon Perreault on a 35-yard touchdown strike. Lavoie made the throw on the run after using his mobility to escape the Guardians’ oncoming pressure in the Crusaders’ pocket.

St. Joseph Guardians’ kicker Tanner Hourd boots a 25-yard field goal during fourth-quarter action from Max Clunie field, Oct. 12, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Kicker Tanner Hourd was the lone point-scorer in the fourth quarter. He booted a 25-yard filed goal for his team.

Despite the humbling loss, Strachan said he thought there were positives his team could take away from the game.

“One thing all year long that we’ve been proud of this group for is the resiliency. They were pretty even-keel,” he said. “The ebbs and flows don’t really bother us that much.

“We just kind of come out and play football. And we bounced back in the second half, and made some decent stops, and put six points on the board,” he said.

Nordick also noted the difficult task of coming to Prince Albert to play a tough Crusaders team. “These guys aren’t gonna be scared. They’re gonna hit hard and we saw it tonight. There were some big plays out there.

“We can’t take any team lightly. I don’t care what their record is. Any team can win on any given day,” he said.

Lavoie finished the game with 145 passing yards on six completed passes of 19 attempts. He threw one touchdown and one interception. He also gained 11 yards on three carries.

Stanford had 90 pass yards and one touchdown for the Guardians. He was five for 17 on pass attempts and completions.

White led his team in rushing yards. Ethan Cartier led the Crusaders with 41 rush yards on six carries.

The Crusaders will next play against the Bedford Road Redhawks (1-3) in Saskatoon on Friday, Oct. 20.