In all his years of coaching the senior football team at Prince George Secondary School, Pat Bonnett has never had so many players willing to suit up to play.
The roster continued to grow each week since the school year began and Bonnett finally had to put a jamb in that revolving door of new recruits, with just two games left in an already-short four-game season.
Having 30 players to work with is a novelty for Bonnett, who started with the Polars as an assistant in 2012 and took over as head coach in 2018. Part of the reason for that is North Division has reserved its junior varsity division strictly for players in Grades 8 and 9 and all the Grade 10 players are now with senior teams.
“This is the most players we’ve had at the varsity level and I think this team is pretty close to being the most talented,” said Bonnett. “What we don’t have is the experience. Other years we’ve had talented kids that have had four or five years of playing experience and now we have talented players but they haven’t had the experience. That’s what they’re getting each week and I hoping they’ll get better each week and each practice.”
In 2019, when the Polars ended up last in the five-team B.C. Secondary School Football Association double-A varsity North Division, they struggled just to round up enough bodies on the field.
“We had 14 guys on the senior team and 12 of them had never played before,” said Bonnett. “It was awful. There were some good athletes there, but they just had never played.”
The Polars, who improved to 2-0 this season after a 33-0 win over a young Nechako Valley Vikings senior team Saturday afternoon in Vanderhoof, take on the College Heights Cougars (1-1) in a B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association double-A varsity clash Friday at 5 p.m. at Masich Place Stadium.
Polars offensive co-ordinator Brett Morrow has built his offence around quarterback/defensive end Jason Kragt, a shifty scrambler from Hixon with a rifle arm, and he loves handing the ball to fullback Nicholas Krawcyck, who doubles on defence at linebacker. They played seven-a-side football throughout the summer with the Prince George Kodiaks and are provincial teammates on the B.C under-18 team.
Kaleb Lizotte and Kurtis Vohar also add spice to the PGSS ground attack and have the speed and sticky hands needed to turn Kragt passes into long gains. Bonnett says the plan is to step the passing game and toss in a few new wrinkles now that the players are more familiar with their bread-and-butter plays. Newcomer Everett Muratori also could emerge as a receiving threat to the Cougars in Friday’s game.
The Polars opened their season Sept. 24 with a 28-6 victory over the Shas Ti Kelly Road Eagles.
“We’ve got a powerful offence, we’ve got some big guys on the line (including standout lineman Conor Johnson) and they move some bodies,” said Bonnett. “We have a lot of improvement to do but we have good team. Right now we’re a running team but I think we’re realizing we have some real talent that can catch the ball and run with the ball.”
The Cougars (1-1) are coming off an 18-0 win last Wednesday over the Eagles.
On a team of 27 players, College Heights head coach Tommy Heinzelman has 15 leftovers from the junior varsity team that two years ago pulled off an upset playoff win over Duchess Park. Running back/linebacker Matthew Norberg is the leading rusher out of the Cougar backfield with 220 yards on 40 carries through two games and Grade 12 running back Damien McMaster has also carried the ball past the 100-yard mark this season. On a run-happy team, Cougar quarterback Isaac Slavik has completed just five of 22 attempts, but one of those passing plays went for a touchdown.
“We’re just in the middle of getting our passing game up to snuff,” said Heinzelman. “Against Kelly Road we learned we need to develop more of a passing threat, because we can’t just keep running it up against defences that are clogging up the whole middle of the field.”
College Heights started their season Sept. 24 with a 23-0 loss to the Duchess Park Condors.
The Cougars are hoping to have their top receiver, Taemon Piddocke, back for Friday’s game. Piddocke, a Grade 11 player who was the Cougars’ MVP in 2019, has been sidelined with a sprained ankle he hurt in the jamboree in mid-September and the Cougars have missed his ability to find open spaces on the field for Slavik to target.
Down in the trenches, tackle Spencer Rodgers and centre Connor Sherlock are the two big bodies anchoring the offensive line, while McMaster has been the most consistent disrupter on the College Heights defensive line. Heinzelman says his team will be ready for the Polars on Friday.
“I think both teams are going to be running the ball quite a bit, it’s going to be a lot of ground-pound with some throwing sprinkled in, and we’ll have to see who gang-tackles better and blocks better, that’s what it’s going to come down to,” he said.
The Condors and Polars appear to be the teams to beat in the North and they’ll get a chance to settle bragging rights when they meet Oct. 22 at Masich on the final day of the regular season.
The Condors take on the Shas Ti Kelly Road (0-2) in the other BCSSFA North Division game Friday at 7 p.m.