The game went right down to the final snap between the crosstown rival Carlton Crusaders and St. Mary Marauders.
In the first ever North Saskatchewan Football League (NSFL) playoff game between the two teams, St. Mary erased an early 14-0 deficit to come back and defeat the top-seeded Crusaders 32-28 at Max Clunie Field on Thursday night.
Carlton head coach Lindsay Strachan says the Crusaders didn’t execute in some key moments throughout the game.
“(It was) a tough one for us. We just didn’t make enough plays at key times and to come out on top. But I thought we battled. They played excellent and they made a couple more plays than we did.”
Carlton would strike first as Rylan Morrison would find a seam and rumble 63 yards to put the Crusaders up 7-0 early just under three minutes into the game.
Morrison would add a second rushing touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter from 10 yards out to extend the lead for Carlton to 14-0.
St. Mary would respond in the second quarter as Carlton would concede a safety just under three minutes into the quarter.
A rushing touchdown from Griffin Johns from a yard out brought the score to 14-9 in favor of Carlton at halftime.
St. Mary would take a 17-14 lead at the 3:20 mark of the third quarter as Kenneth Gonzalez would find the end zone with a one-yard rushing score. The Marauders successfully converted on the two-point attempt.
Marauder head coach Curt Hundeby says he was proud of the way St. Mary fought back after facing an early deficit.
“I can’t say enough about these guys in the heart that they showed here today. Hats off to Carlton, they’re a fantastic team. They’re loaded with talent and the boys battled so well. I’m so proud of them. We were down, we picked our heads up and we fought back, we clawed back one yard at a time. We caught some passes today, we’re pretty excited about that. We needed to grind it out.”
Carlton would pull within one as the Marauders would concede a safety at the 10:02 mark of the third quarter.
The Crusaders would find a big play just twenty seconds later, as Zane Litzenberger would beat his defender off the line of scrimmage and catch a pass from Sullivan Smith-Windsor for an 80-yard touchdown reception to restore the Carlton lead at 22-17.
The St. Mary rushing attack would take over in the fourth quarter as the Marauders would regain the lead with a Lukas Robin quarterback sneak from the one-yard line to retake the lead. St. Mary would be successful on the two-point conversion to take a 25-22 lead.
The Marauders would extend the lead at the 9:53 mark as Lukas Robin would find the end zone from a yard out on third and goal. A successful extra point gave St. Mary a 32-22 advantage.
Carlton would cut the deficit to 32-28 at the 10:34 mark as Sullivan Smith-Windsor would find Gage Prodaehl for a 35-yard passing touchdown. St. Mary would block the extra point attempt to keep the deficit at four.
The game would come down to the final play as Carlton would have possession of the football needing a touchdown to win. Quarterback Sullivan Smith-Windsor would fire a pass intended for Gage Prodaehl, but the pass would hit the dirt securing the win for the Marauders.
Hundeby says the finish was very memorable, and he is excited for the Marauders to play in the league final.
“That last minute killed my heart, (I) probably have to go to the doctors now, but I’m so happy for them, I’m so happy to get another week. Hats off to Carlton and Coach Strachan for an unbelievable team and unbelievable organization.”
The loss put an abrupt end to the campaign for the Carlton Crusaders, who finished at the top of the NSFL league standings in the regular season.
As a result, Thursday was the final high school football game for the graduating players on the Carlton roster. Strachan says he was proud of the development he saw from those players during their time in the Crusader football program.
“That is the tough part of it, you have to say goodbye to some of these guys. We’ve got some guys that were heart and soul guys. Grade 12s always end up in leadership roles within your group. We’re fortunate to have some time with them. We’re going to miss them. (I’m) just proud of the football players they are, proud of the people they are and they’re going to go on and do great things.”
St. Mary will advance to the NSFL final next Saturday, Oct. 28 when they will travel to take on North Battleford Comprehensive.