THUNDER BAY – These aren’t your older brother’s Superior Collegiate Gryphons.
Returning to the junior football gridiron for the first time since 2017, the Gryphons held their own on Thursday night at a mostly refurbished Fort William Stadium, keeping it to a one-score difference for most of the game until the Hammarskjold Vikings pulled away late to secure a 35-14 win in the opening game of the season for both squads.
While it wasn’t the result coach Curtis Sandberg and his troops were seeking, it was a great boost of confidence to his players, who have only been practising for a few short weeks – the first real football action for the vast majority of the team.
“Honestly, it was amazing,” Sandberg said. “The kids are buying in. It’s amazing for the school culture. It’s amazing these kids get to experience it, because I believe playing football is one of the best experiences you can have in high school.
“We’re unbelievably proud of them. We hung in there as long as we could. We’ve only had two weeks together and we’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go.”
The Gryphons have a checkered football past since the school opened in 2009, struggling to find enough interest in the student body to field a team, sometimes offering up a junior team, sometimes a senior team.
More often than not, the north-side school simply stayed on the sidelines.
Sandberg isn’t setting expectations too high in 2023, and was pleasantly surprised at just how competitive Superior Collegiate looked against the Vikings, a team looking to capture its second junior championship in three seasons.
“I think we have maybe three players who may have played football before and the rest were right from scratch. So, we had to go start right from the basics and build up.”
Not surprisingly, that means there will be a few growing pains along the way.
Stopping the Vikings run game was one area that clearly needed a little work.
Hammarskjold’s Austin Yoller did most of the early damage for the Vikings, scoring three times on the ground in the opening half.
Yoller broke free for a 51-yard score just 2:24 into the game, then scored from 12 and 23 yards out, fishing the half with 126 yards rushing before hitting the bench for the second half.
The longest of the three saw him race down the right sideline, all but untouched, on his way to the end zone.
“I was just looking for the green grass and kept going,” Yoller said.
The second was set up by Calvin Shott’s 43-yard run that took the ball from the Hammarskjold seven to their own 50, and a subsequent 34-yard run by Kain Crisofaro that nudged them to within a yard of the endzone.
The Gryphons Landon Blackshaw marked Superior Collegiate’s return with a 45-yard-run on the team’s first play from scrimmage, but the opening drive stalled there and they turned the ball over on downs.
Trailing 21-0, quarterback Kehl Thompson connected with Deacan Panacheese for a four-yard score. They’d close the gap to 21-14 just 19 seconds into the fourth, Thompson connecting with running back Connor Stieh on a pass that went for 41 yards and a touchdown.
But the momentum was short lived.
The Vikings, forced to punt, recovered the ball after it hit a Superior Collegiate player, scooped up by a Hammarkjold defender and three players later Teegan Gibbon found pay-dirt, upping the lead to 28-14.
Gibbon struck again from 25 yards out, the final score of the evening.
St. Ignatius 43, Westgate 26: The defending champion Falcons rode Kai Mosley’s four-touchdown performance to a win over the Tigers.