Lions take over first place in WFL
The St. Paul Lions took over first place in the Wheatland Football League with a 36-29 victory over the Cold Lake Royals in Friday night's Northern Source Under the Lights rivalry matchup.
“The coach always tells us to keep the pedal down, even when we’re up, and just keep going hard,” said Lions offensive tackle Adam Joly. “I think that’s what we did tonight.”
After losing by seven points in Cold Lake on Sept. 6, and winning by seven at home on Friday, the Lions and Royals sit tied for first in the Wheatland standings, with the Lions currently holding the second tiebreaker, overall point differential, by six points.
“What a rivalry. It’s incredible,” said Lions coach Todd Tanasichuk. “They’re a fantastic team. They’re coached very well and they give us a lot of headaches. We’ve got a deep respect for them even though we do hate them. And they hate us, there’s no doubt, but when it’s all said and done I think they have a deep respect for us, too.”
The Lions-Royals rivalry has always provided its share of thrills, however with the current standings heading into the final two games before playoffs, the rivalry has encompassed the season, as every point gained and allowed in the final two games for both St. Paul and Cold Lake will have an impact on which team clinches first place in the league.
“It’s certainly going to make the other games exciting, too. There’s stuff on the line at this point . . . They’re going to have to play hard, and so are we. We’ve got two teams in Lloyd and either one of them could beat us too, we have to be aware of that. It’s no gimme that we’re going to meet (Cold Lake) again,” he said, adding that first place is important because it comes with a bye in the quarterfinals. “It’s so important because you get a bye that first week, it’s three versus six, four versus five, and the two division winners get a bye.”
The Lions started off Friday night's game very strong defensively, forcing turnovers in the opening plays of the Royals’ first two drives, both leading to touchdowns. However the Royals quickly found their bearings and fought back into the game, taking a narrow 23-22 lead at the half.
The Lions stuck to their game plan and continued to press the Royals on both sides of the ball, and managed to get the better of their opponents, picking up the seven-point lead and hanging onto it until the final buzzer.
Taylor Joly recorded 130 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in the game, and also picked up an interception in the Royals first offensive play of the game.
“It feels really good to get back in the game, contribute to the team and help them out,” said Joly, adding that the Lions will need to be at the top of their game to secure first place heading into the post season. “We just have to play like we can, we had a bad start to the season but we got better. We have to play like we always can, we know what our standard is and I think we’ve showed we’re capable of that.”
Quarterback Brenden McKay found receivers three times on eight passing attempts, picking up 66 yards and a touchdown pass to Lions rookie receiver Patrick Dion.
“That feeling was amazing for me. As a rookie, I’m trying to prove myself so that (touchdown catch) was just amazing,” said Dion, who added that he believes the earning first place in the standings will come down to teamwork. “I think it’s just going to be how we work in these next few weeks, how we work as a team to get there.”
The annual game under the lights is always a special night for Lions players, and left defensive tackle Kiefer Ericsson said that Friday night’s matchup against Cold Lake felt like a championship game.
“It felt like no other game . . . it’s almost like two brothers just going at it,” he said. “I’m proud of the boys for holding the line offensively and defensively.”
The Lions will travel to Bonnyville on Friday to take on the Voyageurs before returning home to close out the regular season against the Wainwright Commandos on Oct. 10.
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