Hut-hut

Members of the St. Ignatius Falcons senior football team line up against each other during a scrimmage on Wednesday. The Falcons head to Sault Ste. Marie this weekend to compete in the OFSAA Northern Bowl.

The sun had headed for the showers an hour ago and the air was getting colder. Still, stakes were high on Wednesday night as the St. Ignatius Falcons wrapped up football practice — one of their last remaining ones before their OFSAA showdown on the road this weekend.

Holding a simulated game between the offensive and defensive units, the affair came down a field goal attempt. Quarterback Mike Danchuk held the ball for kicker Rob Hathazi . . . and the snap is muffed! Piles of bodies smother the ball. “Game” over. Defence wins.

The reigning Thunder Bay high school senior champions are preparing for the real thing on Saturday when they travel to Sault Ste. Marie to face the Korah Collegiate Colts in the Northern Bowl OFSAA championship game (1 p.m., live stream at www.OFSAA.on.ca).

While the intensity will be authentic then, attempting to mimic real situations this week is the next best thing, said burly defensive lineman Jett Sweitzer, one of the five Falcons co-captains.

“It’s the best thing for us to get real game knowledge. Nothing prepares for a game like a game,” Sweitzer said. “It’s a whole different mindset, a whole different way you play. More intensity so you have to have mock game if you’re going to succeed at this level.”

Head coach Jason Moore said a full week of hard practice was needed to get ramped up for their first live game in two weeks.

“It’s been a really good week. We’ve made adjustments. The weather has really challenged our players,” Moore said. “We’ve got used to playing in the cold. We’re actually looking forward to playing the game in Northern Ontario — it’s our environment. It’s where we’re comfortable. It’s where the Colts are comfortable. It should be a really good game.”

Sweitzer agreed that Saturday’s clash could be a grinder. The Colts are known to favour the ground game as well.

“It depends on the weather. If it’s windy it will be a harder game to throw,” Sweitzer said. “Our defence, I know, can stop anything that’s thrown at us so I’m not too worried in terms of our defensive standpoint and our offence always gets it done.”

After starting the season 2-2, the Falcons have reeled off three-straight wins, including a 10-7 victory over the Hammarskjold Vikings in the Thunder Bay final on Nov. 6.

The Vikings had handed St. Ignatius those two earlier losses in the regular season. However, the Falcons’ defence has stepped up since mid-October. They’ve allowed just 17 points during over the last three games.

On offence, senior running back Tyler Robertson has broken loose. Robertson has rushed for a total of 479 yards and five touchdowns in the city semifinal and final. Michael Nicoletta, Korah’s power running back, scored three touchdowns in the Colts’ 37-0 conference win over Algonquin last week.

Moore’s crew isn’t a one-trick pony if that’s the only video the Colts have seen. Liam Willmore and Jack Zheng take the other snaps behind Robertson.

“I’m a true believer of giving every player every opportunity we can. It just makes us a stronger unit by the time the season is done,” he said.

“At the beginning of the season you’ll have your fifth-year kids and your Grade 12 kids that are more experienced and more mature. Their skill sets are a lot higher. By the end of the season, we find that our (Grade) 11s and other (younger) players actually thrive to get up to that same level. When we played Hammarskjold, we had three extra running backs that brought up their running game, maybe not up to Tyler’s level, but close enough to make it a good game.”

Sweitzer, the grandson of well-known amateur wrestling builder, the late Reino Niemi, is tabbed as a top high school prospect in Canada who will likely be playing in college or university next season. However, he’s calling Saturday’s game a memorable start for himself and many of his peers, who missed the cancelled 2020 season.

“I’ve played some high level football before, but this is my first time going to an official OFSAA game and playing against another high-level high school team (from outside Thunder Bay),” said Sweitzer.

“For sure we’re happy to be back. Football is such a big part of all our lives. It’s really sad when it’s not here so we’re all grateful to have a season even though its super frigid here. We’ll deal with it for the sport we love.”

Moore made the “knock on wood” sign upon his forehead when asked about getting through the whole football season unscathed from postponements due to the virus.

One more game to go, after all.

“We were ecstatic to have a season. It doesn’t matter — any athletics that go forward this year — it will be a rebuilding year no matter how you cut it,” Moore said “But to give the kids the outlet, that environment on top of their school is a true testament to what we bring as a community for our kids as they grow. It’s huge.”

Normally the Bowl Series are held in one city in southern Ontario over three days. Due to the restrictions, it was decided to play the games at different venues. While Korah is the home team, the game will be played at a neutral site in Sault Ste. Marie on Superior Heights’ field.

“We were more than happy to have . . . the city finals to end the season,” said Moore, who is in his fourth season as St. Ignatius’ head coach. “The fact that both school boards were backing us with going forward with OFSAA and OFSAA itself has been able to accommodate and appease COVID (restrictions) by separating all the divisions and allowing them to move forward is a great testament to a lot of work by a lot of individuals to make sure it worked.”

NOTES: The Falcons will depart Thunder Bay for Sault Ste. Marie this morning. . . . St. Ignatius’ program is 2-2 in OFSAA football games. Thunder Bay schools are 6-8 since the Lakehead joined the OFSAA system in 2004. . . . Westgate won the last OFSAA game featuring a Thunder Bay participant in 2019 over Joan of Arc (Barrie) at the Simcoe Bowl. Korah won the Northern Bowl against Holy Cross (Peterborough) that same season. . . . Saturday’s game is one of six in the OFSAA series. Toronto, Brantford, Peterborough and Belleville are the sites of the other five games between Nov. 29-Dec. 1. . . . The Colts are 6-0 this season. St. Ignatius is 5-2.