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St. Paul and Cold Lake clash in important opener to high school football season

St. Paul hosting the Stettler Wildcats last season at Regional Field. The Lions upset Stettler to advance to Provincials.

“It’s such a strange thing to have such a big game being played in August, not even September yet because the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat as far as going to provincials,” said St. Paul Lions general manager Todd Tanasichuk.

That’s the background of the season opener tonight between two Tier IV rivals as the St. Paul Lions host the Cold Lake Royals at Regional Field.

With only the Wainwright Commandos in the Wheatland Football League to compete against in their tier, both teams could do themselves a favour down the road at playoff time by winning their first game.

The Lions are coming off of a dramatic season in 2018 which saw them become the lowest seed to ever advance to a Tier IV Provincial final.

The Royals on the other hand struggled last season and are hoping they’ve learned lessons heading into 2019.

“We’re at about 30 kids right now, so we’re hoping for a few more bodies,” said Royals head coach Kelly Johnson.

“It’s gonna be quick the battle I think. Hopefully, we’ll be very competitive with them. I know they’re gonna be big and physical. So we’re trying to gear up for that.”

The Lions didn’t lose many players from last season either and are boasting their largest roster in a decade, said Tanasichuk, with 40 committed players on the team.

They’ll look to use their roster size and physical size to their advantage.

“We have size. Size, though, if you don’t utilize it doesn’t amount to much. We always say to the kids, especially the smaller ones, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, right, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

“You have to utilize that size and hopefully we can. Cold Lake is a good football team, they’re always well-coached and they’ll have good technique and good technique is an equalizer to size. We’re expecting it’s going to be a really good football game tomorrow night between two very even teams.”

Cold Lake will have a prominent player in the lineup on Friday in the form of Cole Priestly.

Earlier this month, Priestly accepted a football scholarship to the University of Alberta and will be leaned upon heading into the Royals season.

“He’s worked his butt off, too. So he’s working. He’s focused hard on working out, and its paid off for him too.

“I know they’ve got some large boys on the team. And they’re always a very physical team, so we’re expecting a big fight there. We’re trying to step it up in practice. Hopefully, we can meet that intensity on Friday night and then hit our home opener next Friday against Bonnyville,” said Johnson.

Kickoff is at 7pm tonight at Regional Field.

“We believe we’ve got the ability to get right back to where we were last year, and maybe, you know, win the whole darn thing. But our area is strong,” said Tanasichuk.