To say the least, the Yorkton Raiders have become one of the powerhouse teams in the South Rural 5A 12-Aside Football League.
Winning league titles and contending for provincial championships has become the norm for their crew, and heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Central Cyclones, the Raiders were on track for another unbeaten season in the six-team league.
Then they played the game.
And now there’s a new serious contender in town.
The Cyclones scored on one of their first plays of the game and never looked back, rolling to a 26-0 victory in Yorkton and handing the Raiders their first shutout on their home field in 23 seasons.
It was as impressive a win as Central has had in recent seasons, and one that puts them in position to host a first-round playoff match-up in a couple of weeks.
“We knew going in that this would determine our home playoff game and now regardless of how Yorkton and Weyburn finish off their season, we’re hosting a playoff game and that was really important to us,” said Cyclones head coach Colin Belsher. “The kids were ready to go, they played lights out at exactly the right time and it was awesome.”
As the score would indicate, Central’s defence was on point all night. Despite facing a team that had put up more than 120 points in three games, the Cyclones dominated the field position battle and managed to keep the Raiders' potent passing and rushing attacks in check.
“Our defence was amazing,” Belsher said. “Coach Ansell really had them set up to be successful, they watched a lot of film all week and they were very well prepared. We had a couple of guys playing both ways in Brodie Ansell and Keaton Belsher and they both played great on defence. We didn’t give a lot, we won the field position battle and that made a huge difference.”
It also didn’t hurt to see the offence get things rolling early. Quarterback Ansell and receiver Belsher connected for a touchdown on Central’s first series and with the way Central’s defence was going, that was all it took.
“We really relied on our offensive line and Javin ran the ball really well, but our quarterback spread the ball really well, too,” coach Belsher said. “I think every receiver had a catch or multiple catches, so it’s pretty tough to defend a team when the ball is going all over the place and you’re still picking up yards on the ground.”
There was also the matter of motivation -- Central had taken a lopsided beating at the hands of Yorkton in the league semifinal last season, and that left the local crew with a bit of revenge on the mind.
“We had a pretty sour taste in our mouths last season after the playoffs, giving up 60 points and really having our tail between our legs all the way home,” Belsher said. “It’s been a sour taste all year long and I think the defence took that to heart and really stepped up.”
Now, it’s a matter of finishing things off and remaining as healthy as they can for the playoffs. Thanksgiving week is a bye week across the league, and the Cyclones wrap up their regular season at home on Saturday, Oct. 14 against winless Estevan.
Yorkton, meanwhile, is in for a battle of powerhouses when they travel to Weyburn, and should the Raiders pull off a win there, Central could even finish in first place. Regardless of how things shake out that way, the Cyclones will most certainly be looking forward to hosting whoever they play in the first round at Gutheridge Field on Saturday, Oct. 21.
“When you travel, that’s always an advantage for the team you’re travelling to, especially Yorkton being two-three hours away.,” Belsher said. “Having that home-field advantage allows you to get prepped in your own building, play on a field you’re comfortable with and you don’t have to travel. That’s the biggest piece for us, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
The Peacock Tornadoes didn’t have as much luck, as they dropped a 35-7 decision in Weyburn and are now 1-3 on the campaign. They’ll host Swift Current, also 1-3, on Saturday, Oct. 14 in a crucial match-up that will determine the fourth and final Tier 1 playoff spot. The loser of that game will face Estevan in the Tier II final while the winner will face either Weyburn or Central in the Tier I semifinal.