#CFC50 Game PREVIEW (SK): Battle of undefeated teams set to clash in Saskatoon

CFC50 Holy Cross Crusaders vs. CFC50 Centennial Chargers

Thursday, October 12th, 7:30 pm at SMF Field in Saskatoon.

We enter week six in Saskatchewan, and with that, we are presented with the matchup of the regular season in Saskatoon. In the last five years, two teams have been dominant in the 4A conference. That looks like the case once again in 2017. The Holy Cross Crusaders and the Centennial Chargers each sit at 5-0 and appear to destined for yet another clash in the city final.

It’s a measuring stick game, and we’ll have a better idea of where these two programs lie after this game. Both teams are ranked within the #CFC50, with Holy Cross sitting at number 17 in the country, with Centennial trailing slightly, slotting it at number 21.

In 2016, Centennial defeated Holy Cross in the regular season, entering the city final undefeated. However, the Crusaders continued their magical run, winning their 6th straight city championship and defeating the Crusaders in a thriller. However, the 2017 edition of the Chargers is quite a different looking ball club. Four players moved on to U-Sports football, and many more to the CJFL level. Matthew Baraniuk, Bailey Taylor, and Bryce Liwiski are now members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, while Jakob Mozill is in the midst of his first season at Simon Fraser University. Also graduated is Kash Angell, who was a two-year starter for Centennial at the quarterback position.

The offense hasn’t slowed down for the Chargers despite the talented graduates gone from the program. Senior quarterback Taran Prefontaine is excelling in his first season as the starter for Centennial and will enter this matchup with revenge on his mind. Prefontaine was thrust into action in last years city final when Angell exited the game with an injury and fell just short of leading his team to the title. This game will mean a lot for Taran, and he’ll aim to continue his super impressive 2017 campaign against a talented Crusader defense. Prefontaine has racked up 1192 yards through the air through five games, along with 16 touchdowns to only three interceptions.

The offense around Prefontaine is strong. #CFC100 OL Rodeem Brown is one of the best at his position in the nation and has the eyes of every U-Sports school in Canada locked in on him every time he steps foot onto the field. He’s a dominant run blocker, and many believe he’s the best offensive linemen to come out of Saskatoon in years. He lines up at tackle for the Chargers, but many think he’ll kick inside to lineup at guard when he ultimately makes the jump to the university level next fall.

Receiver Dillan Heintz is Prefontaine’s go-to target and has torn up DB’s in Saskatoon this season. Heintz was a notable snub from the Team Saskatchewan squad for the 2017 Canada Cup in Nova Scotia, and he’ll look to make a statement on the big stage against a Holy Cross team, who’s struggled to find consistent play at the cornerback and halfback positions this season.

“We all knew Dillan was going to be a big part of our offense this year. He’s done a great job of getting open downfield and catching the football. We trained together in the offseason and it’s helped our chemistry on the field. As a result, he’s put up some impressive stats thus far,” notes Prefontaine.

Dillan Heintz celebrating a touchdown in 2016. Photo Credit: Louis Christ

On the defensive side of the ball for Centennial, Brayden Robertson has been disruptive along the defensive line, racking up 4.5 sacks and three pass knockdowns through five games. Defensive back Wade Keating is coming off an excellent performance against Walter Murray in week five, where he recorded 5.5 total tackles, two pass knockdowns, and an interception.

“We’re not preparing for this game any differently because of our 5-0 records. We knew at the start of the season this game would be a good test heading into the playoffs,” Prefontaine said.

Meanwhile, North Battleford fell just short of knocking off Cross in week five, in what would’ve been an upset for the ages. The Crusaders had only allowed 13 points all season before that game, where they snuck out of Battleford with a 43-32 victory. Maybe this gives the Chargers some

However, Centennial isn’t alone when it comes to having a talented senior under center. Holy Cross pivot Matthew Wilson is a true dual-threat quarterback, capable of breaking a game open by making a big-time play at a moments notice. Wilson, like Prefontaine, spent his junior season as a backup and has finally received the reins to the offense. An offseason collarbone injury forced Matthew to miss the season opener, and he’s still working his way back to full speed.

“It’s difficult going from virtually not throwing anything to game time throws, but I think the transition has been alright. We were run heavy through the first 3-4 games but as I got back into things we have become more balanced. I think I have played alright, I’ve made a couple of mental errors but overall I’m pretty happy with my play, and I know I am getting better every week as is our offense as a whole. I think I just need to work on trusting my receivers, not only to run the proper routes but also to catch the ball,” said Wilson.

Wilson has already received multiple offers from U-Sports schools around the country, and those offers will likely continue to grow as the unheralded passer gains exposure. He’s got a cannon for an arm, to go along with lightning quick speed, it’ll be a challenge for the Chargers to slow him down on Thursday night.

“I think we’re just gonna go in and play hard crusader football, our defense is gonna play lights out and shut down their playmakers, and our offense is gonna control the ball and put points up on the board,” said Wilson.

Matthew believes the close contest on the road against the Vikings better prepares them for the clash against Centennial this week.

“I don’t consider our game against Battleford a scare as much as a coming of age game. I think our team was riding a bit of a high horse going into the game and we needed to be tested. The Vikings are a great team, and they gave us a good fight, and I think we needed that before this next game against Centennial.” said Wilson.

Tanner Skazacks has been excellent in the backfield for Cross, racking up 699 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns through five games. The talented runner is averaging 10.6 yards per carry through four games, leading the conference in that statistic. The Crusaders offense runs through Tanner and shutting him down will be the number one priority for the Chargers defense on Thursday night.

Tanner Skazacks running the ball against Marion Graham in week one. Photo Credit: Louis Christ

Safety Ramsey Derbas and linebacker Carson Schrader are the leaders of this Crusaders defense. Each has played football at the highest level possible in Saskatchewan, lining up at the Canada Cup in Nova Scotia this summer and at AT&T Stadium in Dallas last December for the U17 Team Saskatchewan squad. Derbas and Schrader will both have to help get their teammate’s minds moving on to Centennial, as they look to improve on the defensive side of the ball this week.

Carson Schrader getting instruction from Saskatchewan coaching legend, Holy Cross head coach Scott Hundseth. Photo Credit: Louis Christ.

“Against North Battleford, we broke our rules and didn’t execute the way we were supposed to. The fix is simple when we play by our rules and execute we will get back to what we do,” said Derbas.

Ramsey is building upon his impressive debut last season as a grade 10 with the Crusaders, where he led the city in interceptions with seven. He’s currently sitting at three picks through five games and will hope to make another big-time play in a big-time game come Thursday night.

“I’ve been making good reads, preparing hard each week to know my opponent and that has allowed me to excel so far this season,” explains Derbas.

DL Finn Balon was recently athletically cleared after a lengthy transfer process, which saw the big run stuffer join the top program in the city. Balon provides some beef to an already deep defensive line group, and he’s ready to battle as he looks for some reps in the biggest game of his young career to date.

“I’m excited to make the push for the playoffs and am hoping I can make contributions anyway possible,” said Balon.

Many believe this is the year Holy Cross finally gets their provincial championship, after falling short in their previous seven appearances in the big game. However, they’ll have to get past Centennial first, before they can think about their drive down to Regina to take on the Schwann Conference champions at Mosaic Field on Saturday, November 11th.

If you’re in Saskatoon on Thursday night, this is the game you want to check out. When two teams meet in multiple meaningful games over a short span, a rivalry builds. These two programs aren’t fond of each other and will each be looking to make a statement in a critical matchup under the lights at SMF Field.

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