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Canada West Quick Six: Week One

Canadian Football Perspective is pleased to bring you the Canada West Quick Six. Written by Mike Still, this new weekly feature provides a recap of all three Canada West games, while featuring a few standouts from each team.

Photo by Dave Mahussier, 1812 Photography

Manitoba (1-0) 21 – 17 Regina (0-1

Despite losing their starting quarterback and team leader Des Catellier – who threw for 176 yards and a score on the day – late in the third quarter, the Manitoba Bisons rallied as a group, overcoming a 16-0 deficit late in the second quarter to deafeat Regina 21-17. The Herd’s defence pitched a shutout in the second half, and got the game-winning touchdown from CFL Draft pick Brock Gowanlock, who picked up fumble in the Rams backfield and took it 31 yards to the house early in the fourth quarter.

Gowanlock – the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week after adding seven tackles – is a very close friend of Catelliers, and has been with him every year since joining the program. He noted after the game that “the number one thing that [Catellier] would want would be for us to come out and get a win. Right away all of us focused up and said all we have to do is put our heads down and get this W."

Gowanlock’s performance against the Rams was a microcosm of his career as a whole. The fifth-year, who has 75.5 tackles over the last two seasons and is also a special teams phenom, was all over the field. He had a tackle on almost every punt cover and also tracked fellow CFL Draft pick Kyle Borsa coming out of the backfield. If you want a further example of Gowanlock’s work ethic, look no further than his weight loss journey.

When Gowanlock was first recruited to the University of Manitoba back in 2016, he was a 310-pound defensive tackle who was fresh off of a 14.5 sack season with the Langley Rams of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL), as well as a CJFL All-Canadian nod.

"I was always a bigger kid, which is what led me to playing defensive tackle," the lean 230-pounder says. "I enjoyed playing it because it was a quick route to the quarterback. You're normally playing a one-step set rather than a kick step, so I enjoyed it because if you could get a quick move right off the line, you had a chance to get right in the quarterback's face."

It didn't take long for Gowanlock to realize he was going to have to shed some weight at the university level if he wanted to continue to thrive.

"The weight loss came on me. In our first game of the year [in 2016] we played against the University of Calgary and they ran a hurry up offence and it went straight from the three-minute warning all the way until halftime. I remember I was so tired I wanted to throw up in the garbage I was so out of shape. From that moment on I realized you can't just rely on being big at this level — you have to be in shape."

Regina notes

Despite the end result, Regina showed out well. Their two-score lead in the first half was in part due to the play of all-purpose threat Kyle Borsa, a CFL Draft pick of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The two-sport star who’s also a standout on the track had 77 yards receiving after two quarters, and scored the team’s first major on a ten-yard swing pass. He’s one of just 13 players in program history to amass over 2,000 all-purpose yards and will be a game-changer as the season progresses. In Manitoba’s case, the team adjusted well at halftime, as Borsa had -6 yards in the second half.

The Rams’ defence was stout for the most part as well. They tallied five sacks on the day, with six different players getting in on the action. Linebackers Ryder Varga, Cody Peters and Josh White paced the squad, combining for 14.5 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Halfback Zach Moore, who’s started 24 straight games, added four-and-a-half tackles.

The Rams run a 30 front, which takes advantage of the athleticism, experience and versatility of their ‘backers. Varga, the team’s middle linebacker in his third season of eligibility, is 6’3”, 235-pounds and can step up in the box, rush the passer and play in coverage. He’s a product of the powerhouse Dr. Martin LeBoldus Golden Suns, where he won a provincial title in three consecutive seasons.

Peters is a 5’11”, 210-pound fifth-year and won five straight national championships with the Saskatoon Hilltops at the junior football level. He was also the CJFL’s Outstanding Defensive Player in 2018 and enjoyed an extended stay at Saskatchewan Roughriders camp that year, playing the safety position where he showed his range. White is a former 4A provincial champ with Campbell Collegiate in Regina and also played for Team Canada. He stepped right into the Rams’ lineup in 2018 and had a team-leading four-and-a-half sacks in 2019 at the weak side linebacker position.

Alberta (1-0) 44 – 19 UBC (0-1

Special teams gaffes and undisciplined play came back to haunt the UBC Thunderbirds on Saturday, as they fell 44-19 to Alberta in a contest that was much closer than the score indicates.

The Golden Bears frequently started with ideal field position due to a 27.5 yard punting average and a couple wayward snaps from UBC, and they also took advantage of a few untimely penalties in the second quarter. Alberta made the score 13-1 just under midway through the second on a Matthew Peterson touchdown run, his first of three majors on the day which was set up by three penalties by the T-Birds.

Less than two minutes later, Alberta extended their lead to 20-1 on a ten-yard Peterson touchdown pass that was aided by a Tyshon Blackburn interception. A second half push got UBC within nine points at 20-11, but they were out-scored 24-8 in the final 18 minutes of play.

It was a well-rounded performance from Alberta. Offensively, nine different players had at least one grab, and Brad Launhardt threw for 224 yards on the day and three scores. Defensively, the story was strong side linebacker Josiah Schakel, who went absolutely nuts with 15 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. He lined up all over the field and simply couldn’t be contained.

Schakel is a product of Bev Facey in Sherwood Park. He won three city championships there and was named the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Back on multiple occasions. It’s for this reason that he’s such a dangerous player, as he’s just as good in coverage as he is rushing the passer and stepping up in the run game.

He was second in the conference last year with 51 tackles and is part of an experienced Golden Bears roster that includes six East-West Bowl selections. Fifth-year defensive back Jayden Dalke, fourth-year linebacker Josiah Schakel, fourth-year defensive lineman Donovan Burgmaier, fourth-year offenensive lineman Peter Kozushka, third-year offensive lineman Rodeem Brown and third-year running back Jonathan Rosery all earned the honour.

UBC notes

There were still many positives for UBC on the day, most notably the potential flashed by quarterback Garrett Rooker and receiver Jason Soriano.

Rooker, who stands at 6’3”, 205 pounds, is a product of Clear Springs High in League City, which is just outside of Houston, Texas. The 19-year-old was a three-year starter playing 6A football in Texas, where he had a school record of 65 touchdowns. He got better as the game went along, using his athleticism outside of the pocket on a number of jumbo packages while showcasing a cannon of an arm. He was 20-for-26 for 258 yards and two touchdowns in the second half as his confidence continued to grow.

Rooker’s favourite target was the 5’10”, 180-pound Soriano, a household name in the BC high school football scene who was named the 2019 BC Secondary Schools Triple A MVP as a standout for Vancouver College. He had 226 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in the Triple A final, a 45-0 win for the Fighting Irish and was up to his old tricks against the Golden Bears.

Soriano led all players with 144 receiving yards and also had two scores. Both majors came in situations where he was isolated on the wide side of the field, using his speed and slick route-running abilities to make plays. His second major was particularly impressive, as he beat the opposing defensive back with a double move to the inside. There’s no doubt that he’ll be a major factor all year for a promising T-Birds offence.

Calgary (1-0) 34 – 20 Saskatchewan (0-1

To no one’s surprise, the nationally ranked Calgary Dinos and Saskatchewan Huskies put on a show last week, with the Dinos coming out on top 34-20. With the win, Calgary extended their opening week win streak to 11 straight seasons, not factoring in a loss due to an ineligible player in 2014.

The story for Calgary was the play of quarterback Josiah Joseph and the Philpot brothers, Jalen and Tyson. Joseph, a BC native patiently waited five years and a pandemic to get his shot as the number one guy. Throughout the process, he was praised by coaches and teammates alike for his professionalism and leadership. He had the opportunity to grow alongside former starters Jimmy Underdahl and Adam Sinagra and got his shot in the spotlight this year in his final season of eligibility.

The veteran pivot didn’t disappoint, throwing for 451 yards and three scores on the day, while extending plays on numerous occasions. He was incredibly efficient throughout the game, including a 16-for-17 showing in the first half which merited 208 yards.

His favourite target was Jalen Philpot, who had both of the team’s majors in the first half and an insane 246 yards overall. What was most impressive was the way in which Jalen amassed the total. Not only did the 2019 Canada West All-Star display his great hands, he also made countless defenders miss in tight spaces, producing a plethora of yards after the catch. He, alongside Tyson, combined for 401 of the team’s 451 passing yards and have a spectacular relationship with their pivot.

Both Philpots are ranked in the CFL’s fall draft rankings. Jalen is slotted in at number seven while Tyson is 15. The pair of Team Canada alums are both dynamic, with Tyson having the edge in the speed department while Jalen is shifty and has a knack for getting open off of his releases, due in part to his background as a running back.

Saskatchewan notes

Saskatchewan had plenty to like from their performance despite the loss. One of the major storylines in the game, and all year for the Huskies, will be the play of their defensive ends Riley Pickett and Nathan Cherry. The duo combined for 11 tackles and three sacks and were a constant presence in the run game and while rushing the passer.

The third-year Pickett is a Saskatoon Hilltops alum and former CJFL All-Canadian who has grown man size and strength at 6’4”, 250 pounds. He inserted himself into the team’s starting lineup immediately and had the chance to learn from veterans like Evan Machibroda, Nic Dheilly and Tristan Koronkiewicz. It’s now his turn in the spotlight and he’s making the most of it, as is the fourth-year Cherry, a spot rotator in years past who’s taking full advantage of his starting reps in 2021. A highly-touted commit out of Aden Bowman in Saskatoon, the 6’3”, 245-pound Cherry played defensive tackle during his high school days and brings a mix of power and athleticism to the position.

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