Grade 12 Vincent Massey captains Luke Thalman and Everett Reid have been best friends their entire lives. They live a block away from each other and have played tackle and flag football at every level together, winning numerous championships along the way. Last week, the seniors embarked on the final season opener of their high school football careers – factoring in a lost year due to COVID-19 – and while the moment means a lot, it’s not a storyline for either. The pair are far more concerned with getting better day by day alongside a veteran roster, and their end goal, like the other four teams in Division 1, is the ANAVETS Bowl.
“It’s a weird feeling,” noted Thalman, the team’s starting quarterback who along with his fellow captains, took some time to chat about the 2021 campaign prior to week one. “It feels like high school went by pretty fast for us, especially missing a year too. I’m sure at the end it’ll be emotional, but right now we’re focused on making it to the end.”
“We want to go out there and make the most of it,” added Reid, a do-it-all receiver who also plays defensive back, punts and is a returner. “It could be our last year, and we missed a year of playing obviously, but this is the last opportunity, so we’re going to make the most of it.”
The Trojans did just that this past Friday, defeating rival St. Paul’s 20-7 in a back-and-forth tilt under the lights in River Heights to advance to 1-0. Special teams and turnovers at key times played a major factor in Massey’s victory, as both squads established the run effectively and were physical at the point of contact.
Massey entered halftime up 4-0, preserving the shutout with a key fumble recovery in the final two minutes of the first half. The fumble was forced by senior defensive back Owen Latour, who stepped up to stymy senior Cru pivot Chris Clarkson on a quarterback keeper. St. Paul’s kept the game close with tremendous play in the box by their front seven. Defensive lineman Israel Opanubi and linebacker Brady Zdrill were two key contributors amongst a well-rounded group, while powerful running back Tommy Stefanson set the tempo offensively.
Clarkson and senior receiver Morgan Lawson answered quickly for the Cru in the second half. Lawson, the team’s leading receiver on the evening, broke open across the middle and did the rest, making multiple defenders miss on a long touchdown run to open the third quarter. It was one of a number of impressive plays from the pass-catcher, who also had a one-handed grab in the first half.
The Trojans responded right away, mixing up the run and pass effectively which led to a Siju Bodunrin goal line major. The touchdown – also the game-winner – was one of two on the day for the physical 200-pound back, who got better as the contest went along. He was named the team’s Warrior of the Game after recording 105 yards on a number of positive gains between the tackles.
Captain Odin Peterson – a 6’3”, 287-pound U16 alum who prepared for the season by training with Blue Bombers linebacker Mike Benson – led the charge up front, alongside fellow seniors such as Sean Marchello, Colin Parsons and Josh Tardiff and grade 11 Tobi Sokunbi.
“I like being a big, nasty guy on the offensive line. I like run blocking and just putting guys in the dirt. I hope the whole offensive line thinks that way too, and I believe they have so far,” he noted prior to the season opener on the team’s identity and playing style.
“Sean, Collin, Tobi, Josh, all the backups out there, it’s just a really good group and I think we’re just nasty guys. We want to hit you and go from there.”
Not to be forgotten on the drive was the performance of Thalman, who kept multiple plays alive with his feet. His most impressive throw came after evading multiple defenders outside of the pocket. After scrambling to his left, he was able to find two-way standout Caleb Thiessen – also a standout volleyball player – at the two-yard line. It was one of many impressive plays from Thiessen, who also started at corner and was named the Trojan’s Player of the Game.
Thiessen is one of many versatile pass-catchers on a Massey roster that also includes Reid, fellow seniors Cole McQueen and Brett Kreitz, and shifty junior Jalen McDonald. Reid and McDonald were also factors in the return game all evening, while the captain’s interception in the fourth quarter led to Bodunrin’s second major.
“With the amount of good receivers we have and the depth we have, I think everybody will have attention drawn to them,” commented Reid. “We’re willing to go on the field in different slots, whether we’re doing motions or other stuff, and I think everybody will get open on this offence. We have a great group of running backs and receivers obviously. We’re going to have a really explosive offence this year.”
In other Division 1 action, Grant Park defeated Oak Park 56-15. Senior quarterback Solomon Bond threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the win, while running back Coan Graham added over 200 all-purpose yards and three scores. Defensively, senior halfback Junior Munyaka paced the squad with two interceptions, including a pick six. The Pirates will take on Massey this Friday on the road at 4:30 in a battle for first place, while Dakota opens their season on Thursday against the Raiders. For complete week one scores, head to the schedule section of the league website.