In most big football playoff games, there are usually one or two moments that changed the course or flow of the game for good.
For the North Battleford Comprehensive High School Vikings, those two moments happened in quick succession right before the half of Friday's 26-15 win over the Tommy Douglas Tigers in the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate (SSSAD) 3A final, a win that propelled them to this Saturday's 3A provincial final.
The first was an interception by senior Kolby Heidt while the Tigers were threatening deep in the red zone with one minute to go in the second quarter.
Then, with the ball turned over, the second game-changing moment happened: quarterback Damon Dutton connected with receiver Zach Wolfe — as he often did this fall — for a 57-yard touchdown on the last play of the half to give the Vikings a 13-7 lead.
Those two specific plays, one on offence and one on defence, epitomize what has worked so well for the Vikings this year: playing well on both sides of the ball.
It's what has propelled them to this weekend's 3A provincial final, which they will get to host for the first time since 1995, when they beat Prince Albert Carlton.
"The defence played their best game all season [on Friday]," Vikings slotback Rhett Taggart said at the beginning of Tuesday's practice at Beaver Lions Stadium. "[On offence], we established the run-game early, which kind of made them bring up all their guys up to the line. And then after they had a bunch of guys in the box and on the line, we threw the ball, so we had lots of open guys downfield."
A strong, experienced defence (one that forced three fumbles in Friday's win), coupled with both air and ground options on offence, make the VIkings a tough team to beat.
Especially when they also don't make many mistakes.
All season long, the Vikings coaching staff has impressed upon the players to stick to the basics, which could be a difference on Saturday.
"I think it'll come down to just the fundementals like protecting the ball, turnovers, and just tackling and catching," Vikings slotback Presley Peterson said. "All the basics. We've definitely been told that all season long."
Standing in the Vikings way is the Yorkton Raiders, a team that has had even more success than the Vikings this year.
They went a perfect 6-0 this season in the Moose Jaw league and then won their first two playoff games 59-0 and 59-2. They did have trouble in their provincial semifinal, defeating the Greenall Griffins from Balgonie 24-22.
"Yorkton is big on the line of scrimmage," Vikings head coach Mike Humenny said. "They have some good, key offensive players that have played two ways, similar to our team. So I think we're very similar to Yorkton in a lot of ways."
There's also a bit of history between the two, as Humenny pointed out.
In 1994, the year before the Vikings won it all, tthey lost to Yorkton while hosting the provincial final. The Raiders also topped North Battleford in the 1990 provincial final.
While all of that makes this matchup a bit unique, that was over 20 years ago and doesn't have an impact on what will happen this Saturday.
Instead, a big focus for the Vikings is certainly on themselves.
"Everybody's happy [to be here]. Everybody's got their heads on [straight], so as long as we can keep that up, we should be good to go," lineman Zack Weber said, who is one of the team captains. "All the boys know that this is something we've got to do and we've got to act like we've done this before. That's how games are won."
"We're excited to be here and it should be fun," Taggart added. "You have to control your emotions and take care of what you have to do first. Not let your emotions get the best of you."
Making the proper in-game adjustments has also been an area of strength for the Vikings this season, and perhaps it will be more important than ever against a team they haven't seen in person this year.
But if Friday's win is any indication, the Vikings coaching staff is up for the challenge.
"Right before halftime [on Friday] we called a timeout, before Zach Wolfe scored on a long touchdown, and we kind of discussed as a group what we wanted to do," Humenny recalled. "It was a collaboration of a lot of good ideas [from the coaching staff] and we came together with one concrete plan and went forward. That's been going on all season long. Our coaching staff in my opinion is second to none. We've got a lot of great guys on this staff. We have experience, we have some young guys, we have some ex-players in the system — guys who take pride in what we're doing."
Regardless of Saturday's result, this season has been one to remember, especially for the 25 Grade 12s on the Vikings roster.
"We've played about six years probably all together and we just feel like a family now," Peterson said. "We all just work as a team and for our final year it feels good to be in the biggest game of our careers so far."
"We talked about this game right from our opening practice when we opened camp," Humenny added. "A team goal for us was to host this game on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Beaver Lions Stadium. That's been a goal for us right from the get go. And we're here.
"It'll come down to the team that plays physical. It'll come down to the team that takes care of the football. Exactly what worked for us on Friday night."
Saturday's final will kick off at 1:30 p.m. at Beaver Lions Stadium.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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