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Gridiron grail

Vikings, Polars clash in P.G. Bowl high school football final

Long before the Nechako Vikings got themselves in a position to play the Prince George Polars tonight in the P.G. Bowl high school football championship, they were paying their dues in community football.

Starting in 2004, the year the P.G. Bowl revived a sport that had been mothballed for 33 years, the current crop of Vikings was sewing seeds in the Prince George Minor Football Association. They started small with a few losing seasons and took their first major step in 2008 when Mike Cogan and his three touchdowns and 46-yard field goal spiked the College Heights Cougars in the P.G. Bowl final.

Once again, the Vikings have emerged as the team to beat. The final at 6 p.m. at Masich Place Stadium.

"We had a lapse last year as kind of a rebuilding year and then we had some pretty talented players come up from the bantam program that started Grade 11 this year and they've really been a bonus to the team," said Vikings head coach Dave Moore.

"Vanderhoof has a very solid football base. The coaches at the community level are just awesome, we get kids coming up who have played community football and you know they've been coached properly. They have a lot of sound techniques."

Vikings quarterback Riley Wallace is part of that Grade 11 group and in his first year as the starter led the Vikings to a 5-0 regular season. The Vikings' offence sputtered in their semifinal playoff against College Heights, kept off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. Sparked by a series of big offensive plays from Owen Rodgers, Hudson Schneider, Kyle Varley and Ben Rodts, they eventually overcame the Cougars 20-14.

The Polars used a multiplayer running attack to rip holes in the Duchess Park Condors' defence, beating the Condors 36-26 in the other semifinal. Taylor Goodine, Kyle Woods, Lucis Gomes and Brady Lecomte all have game-breaking speed and they give quarterback Tyson Plain several options tonight if his primary receivers, Jordan Olexyn, Mark Elson and Eric Irving are having trouble getting open against the Vikings' secondary.

"We have to watch their speed out of the backfield," said Moore. "Tyson has a good arm and he has the ability to scramble. He's pretty quick and agile and he made Duchess Park chase him around and that's what cost them the game."

The Condors didn't have an answer for Woods, the six-foot-one, 200-pound fullback who seemed able to move the ball at will. Woods broke his ankle in the spring and wasn't cleared to play football until mid-season. A gashed hand kept him out of the lineup for the game against the Vikings but he'll be dressed tonight.

"He's a huge part of our team and we know we can pound the ball inside if we give the ball to him," said Polars head coach Al Paciejewski. "Duchess knew he was going to get the ball and he was still popping it. He's still not up to top speed, but he's in very good shape and the power is there."

The Polars countered the threat of Montell Lindgren and the Condors' top-rated passing game by rotating a steady stream of linemen into the game. They were fresh when the Condors' offensive line started wearing down trying to prevent the pass rush.

The Vikings will be without running back Sheldon Conniff, who tore the MCL and ACL in his knee early in last week's game. Conniff, a provincial-level wrestler, led the Vikings in rushing with 243 yards and four touchdowns in five games.

Despite their perfect 5-0 record, Nechako Valley had just four all-star selections -- Schneider at safety, offensive lineman Cam Brown, defensive lineman Harley Harper, and middle linebacker Royce Gairdner. Moore says the below-average number of all-stars is a credit to the Vikings' all-around solid team play.

Both P.G. Bowl finalists will advance to playoffs next Saturday against B.C. High School Football Association opponents. The winner will play next Saturday in Kamloops, while the second-place finisher will have to travel to Vancouver to play a still-to-be determined double-A varsity team.

With dry field conditions and a game-time temperature of about 4C expected tonight. Although their Oct. 22 meeting was a defensive struggle the Vikings won 8-3, there could be plenty of offence on display in the final.

"Both teams can move the ball and at this point they probably have to be favoured, having beaten us two weeks ago," Paciejewski said. "We have to keep it within a touchdown or so going into the fourth quarter. If they're up by two or three touchdowns they're very hard to come back against."