Some of the top athletes in North America showed their stuff under the lights Tuesday night, July 5, in Hafford, as an American all-star squad defeated Team Saskatchewan 61-22 in the 20th annual Can-Am Bowl — an international exhibition of six-man high school football. The American team consisted of players and coaches from Texas, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
USA head coach, Jake Stevenson is head coach at Tri-Cities Co-op in Hobson, Moore-Judith Gap, Montana. He explained the selection process started with selecting the top prospects in each state:
“I leaned a lot on the staff from each state,” said Stevenson. “Wyoming did Wyoming and Nebraska while the Texas coaches did all the recruiting in Texas. It was a team effort.”
Team USA truly reflected the best in American 6-man football.
Coach Stevenson said the American players view this game as the highlight of their high school football careers.
“They were honoured to be selected,” said Stevenson. “I truly think they all look at it as an Olympic opportunity. You are representing every kid in the country who plays 6-man football.”
The players car-pooled to Canada from the various states. Coincidently the entire team of 17 players and six coaches, travelling in three trucks and a van, met at a roadside restaurant in Radisson on Friday, July 1; arriving less than thirty minutes apart. The longest drive for one group was 1700 miles from Covington, Texas.
The team then enjoyed small town hospitality at its best, as Hafford Central School hosted their American visitors in the days leading up to the big game.
The hospitality was also appreciated by everyone associated with the Saskatchewan team, which had representation from Southey, Watrous, Lemberg, Wynyard, Birch Hills, Biggar, Raymore, Cumberland House, and LaRonge; as well as local players from Hafford, Hague and Rosthern.
The Saskatchewan team was chosen largely from a pool of players who participated in the six-man portion of the Football Saskatchewan Ed Henick Senior Bowl, which was held May 22 at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon. The team was led by Head Coach: Ryan Barnstable of Hafford; Defensive Coordinator Clay Kirby of Hague; Defensive Assistant Mitchell Wintonyk of Rosetown; Defensive Assistant Kim Schau of Hague; Offensive Coordinator Gary Paproski of Rosetown; and Offensive Assistant Shaun Dubyk of Hafford.
The United States has won 15 of 19 Can-Am Bowls. With Tuesday’s victory, the Americans now have a seven game winning streak going.
The Americans won a close 16-9 game in Southey last year, and won handily 53-16 in the game hosted by Hague in 2014.
This game was a mixture of both. The first half saw two great teams going head to head. The first half ended with Team USA leading 24-22, the only difference being a blocked convert attempt.
The Canadian team looked like they were in a position to take a late first half lead when RJC’s Carter Dahl made a great catch between two American defenders for an apparent touchdown. Unfortunately, this was called back on a penalty.
The local squad had deferred the coin toss win to the second half and received the kickoff, which Lemburg star, Ryan Krupski returned for a touchdown.
Again it was opportunity missed as this was called back on a penalty. As the dark skies turned to rain any momentum Saskatchewan had built up slowly was washed away.
Coach Stevenson talked about the switch in momentum: “The rain definitely contributed to some bounces going our way.”
Team USA also made some important half time adjustments.
“It was a meld of ideas to stop the offence we had seen on the field,” said Stevenson.
Saskatchewan Head Coach Ryan Barnstable was proud of how his team played.
“We stepped up,” said Barnstable. “They were physical and competed.”
He felt the difference was “a couple of untimely penalties and bad breaks and the momentum got away from us.”
He also credited the Americans with making good half-time adjustments that led to a lot more pressure and felt the rain was also a factor.
“The rain started, which made it harder to throw, which was our strength,” said Barnstable.
Once Team USA got a bit of a lead they were able to rely on a great running game, which included record-setting running backs, Wyoming’s Braden Duncan and Nebraska’s Gabe Haney. They also benefited from the power running of 6-foot, 240-pound Quaid Russell from Custer, Montana.
For Team Saskatchewan, local players made many important contributions. Connor Garrett of the Hafford Vikings was great on special teams and efficient when given an opportunity to run the ball on offence. Dalton Deprez of the Hague Panthers handled the kicking duties, while his Panther teammate Kenneth Wiebe saw double duty as defensive back and centre on offence. Carter Dahl of the provincial champion Rosthern Longhorns was named Canadian offensive MVP for his great work as both running back and receiver. Dahl also had many tackles on defence from his safety position.
For all the players it was a memorable way to end their high school football careers.
The Can-Am Bowl, featuring the best six-man football players in Saskatchewan versus an all-star American squad, is slated for July 5 in Hafford.
The Hague Panthers are well-represented in the contest, with two players, linebacker Ken Wiebe and kicker Dalton Deprez, and defensive coach Clay Kirby.
Carter Dahl of Clavet, a student at Rosthern Junior College who played safety and receiver with the Rosthern Longhorns last season, is also on the squad.
The American team is made up of players from Texas, Montana, North Dakota and other states.
The Saskatchewan team’s head coach is Ryan Barnstable of Hafford and the offensive coach is Gary Paproski of Rosetown.
The game takes place in Hafford at 8:00 p.m.