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Third time's the charm

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Sep 19, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

Tri-City Outlaws win their first Canadian Major Football League title at Warrior Field

 By Bob Vrbanac, Chronicle Staff

The Tri-City Outlaws’ Jon Nedeljkovic figures he’s played for 38 football teams in his 38 years, sometimes for more than one a season.

But it was his 38 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday night at Waterloo’s Warrior Field that might have been the most important numbers he’s put up in his career, helping the Outlaws to a 31-14 win and a national championship.

It was the Outlaws first Canadian Major Football League championship in three cracks at the national title, with their opponent, the Calgary Wolfpack, coming out on top in the teams’ two previous meetings.

Not bad for an Outlaws’ club that had serious concerns whether they would have enough players to even field a team this season, and were considered a spent force when the Northern Football Conference’s postseason rolled around.

But they surprised the defending NFC champions the Sault Ste. Marie Steelers, their traditional league rivals, in the semifinals and eked out a one-point victory over the Ottawa Invaders in the title game.

That set up Saturday’s rematch, and Nedeljkovic said the Outlaws’ mantra going into the contest was they weren’t going to go 0-3 against the Wolfpack.

 “We’ve been a second half team all year long, we get stronger the more that we’re on the field,” said the powerful running back who helped grind down the Wolfpack’s defence. “Coming out of the half we said we’re going to wear them down and that’s exactly what we did.”

The win looked like it might be in doubt for a while.

With the Outlaws leading 10-8 at the half, the Wolfpack marched the ball 80 yards down the field on their first possession of the third quarter to go up 14-10.

But it was all Outlaws after that. Tri-City pounded the ball with Nedeljkovic plunging in for a five-yard major before capping it off with a 25-yard screen pass for a touchdown to put the Outlaws up 23-14 late in the contest.

“I got a sense that it was the one,” said Nedeljkovic about his second major. “I told the offence it’s going to be over once we get this TD.”

That sense of urgency was heightened by the fact that it might be the last game a lot of the Outlaws players, including Nedeljkovic ever will play.

“I’m 38 and that was the last game of my career,” he said. “What a way to retire.”

Another player considering retirement was Brian Adams, whose fumble recovery on the one-yard line at the end of the first half preserved the lead for the Outlaws and gave the team some momentum going into the break.

An original member of the Outlaws since they were formed in 2003, he told head coach Chris Newsome that he would get the ball back with the Wolfpack driving for their first lead of the game. He backed those words up on the field.

 “At the end of the day you have to make a play,” said Adams. “I told him that I’m going to get that ball back for him.”

The defence was also the difference in the second half. After the initial drive, they shut down the Wolfpack’s high-powered offence and kept the Western Canadian champs off the field.

“We just buckled down and played simple, basic football the way we did all year,” said Adams.

With his two-year old daughter patrolling the sidelines in a Pittsburg Steelers jersey and pink high tops, the defensive back said it was time to spend a little more time with his family and the win helped him do it by going out on top.

“This win means closure,” said Adams. “I’ve been with this team since it started, I can go out on a high note.

“We finally did it, and I told coach (Newsome) we’re not losing three times.”

Newsome said the second half was all about catching the bus.

“Our offensive line call themselves the Grand River Transit, and they proved it tonight,” said Newsome. “This is what we all wanted.”

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Outlaws: Canadian Champs

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Sep 18, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

By Christine Rivet, Record staff

Mon Sep 19 2011

Outlaws: Canadian champs

Jon Nedeljkovic ran like there was no tomorrow as his Tri-City Outlaws captured their first Canadian Major Football League’s title with a 31-14 victory over the Calgary Wolfpack.

Indeed, Saturday night’s championship before 600 fans at Warrior Field was the 38-year-old running back’s final game.

“I said the only reason I was coming back was to win a national championship. And it worked out,” said Nedeljkovic after a spectacular farewell performance.

On Saturday night, the former Divison II player at Chowan University in North Carolina slashed his way to 197-all purpose yards, including a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

The Waterloo-based Outlaws scored the game’s final 21 points to erase Calgary’s third-quarter four-point lead and any doubt.

The Outlaws fell in their two previous appearances at the national final, in 2005 and in 2008, both times to the Wolfpack.

“The original Outlaws (from 2003) have been waiting a long time for this,” said head coach Chris Newsome. “I’m so happy for them.”

About a dozen players remain from Tri-City’s inaugural season, including perennial conference all-star offensive tackle Lee Becker.

“For us, we’ve been a fourth-quarter team all year. Our O-line trains hard and we just wear teams out. That’s what happened,” said Becker, one of about 10 Outlaws expected to hang ’em up.

Tri-City quarterback Bryan Rosekat ran in a three-yard score and found receiver Aron Froese and Nedeljkovic with TD strikes of five and 17 yards.

David Sevigny, one of many former University of Waterloo Warriors on the Outlaws’ roster, kicked four converts and a 49-yard field goal.

For the Wolfpack, Darryl Leason passed for 247 yards, including a pair of touchdowns to Mike Leason. “It’s been a long, long hard season for this team,” said Nedeljkovic. “There was a real sense of urgency.”

“It was the perfect season for us,” said Becker.

crivet@therecord.com

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Outlaws hope third time is the charm

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Sep 14, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

By Christine Rivet, Record staff

Thu Sep 15 2011

Outlaws hope third time is the charm

WATERLOO — Three is the loveliest number for the Tri-City Outlaws.

The three-time Northern Football Conference champs take their third run at the senior national crown on the third Saturday of September.

And for the third time in their Canadian final history, the Waterloo-based, never-before-national champs, meet the Calgary Wolfpack.

As for the three most important things the Outlaws will focus on Saturday night at the University of Waterloo’s Warrior Field, let’s just say they are defence, defence and defence.

“It will come down to stopping Darryl Leason,” said Outlaws assistant coach Pat DeLay.

The Wolfpack quarterback, DeLay noted, is perhaps the most prolific signal caller in Canadian amateur football history.

Leason, a six-foot-four, 230-pounder, was Canadian university football’s passing leader in 2000, taking the Regina Rams to the Vanier Cup game.

The ageless 37-year-old averaged about 330 passing yards and four touchdowns per game in the Alberta Football League this season for the four-time Canadian champs.

“He’s the best quarterback we will ever see,” said Outlaws defensive line coach Gary Hudson.

“If we cannot pressure him, we might as well be fans and sit back and watch the show,” added DeLay.

And so, that responsibility falls to a trio (what else?) of Outlaws.

They are: linebacker Shane Everest; defensive tackle Ryan Viby; and Tri-City’s man for all positions, defensive end Jeff Nosal, should the Outlaws line up their sometimes quarterback/slotback there.

Saturday marks the first time the Outlaws will play host to the national championship.

In previous national finals, the Outlaws succumbed to the Wolfpack 20-14 in Hamilton in 2005, before falling 35-7 to the hosts in Calgary in 2008.

Three years later, these same combatants meet again for Round 3.

“Third time lucky,” said DeLay.

The Outlaws are requesting fans bring with them five non-perishable food items per customer to receive a discounted $10 ticket at the gate.

Wolfpack vs. Outlaws

The kickoff: Warrior Field, Saturday, 7 p.m.

The prize: The Canadian Major Football League championship

crivet@therecord.com

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Vandals trounced by Wolfpack

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 25, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

Vandals trounced by Wolfpack

Calgary Wolfpack sends the defending champs packing in the AFL semi–finals

By Carl Carter

Posted 10 days ago

The Lloydminster Vandals bid to repeat as Alberta Football League champions came to a halt on Sunday as the team fell to the Calgary Wolfpack in the semi–finals.

A lackluster opening half had the Vandals trailing the Wolfpack by a wide margin at half time, and despite a huge surge in the second half the team couldn't battle back as their season came to a close with the 34–26 loss.

"We just didn't come to play in the first half and left ourselves too big of a hole," said received Jess Valleau. "We played really well in the second half and made the score really close. I even had the chance to tie it up with a few minutes left but we were just in too big of a hole."

A slow start would be the Vandals' downfall, as the Wolfpack took a 27–3 lead into half time and scored their final major of the game early in the third quarter. The Vandals did find their game in the second half, as the team scored 23–unanswered points, but the comeback was too little, too late.

"It was two totally different halves as far as how the teams played. In the first half we had a lot of trouble stopping their offence, and our offence was turning the ball over and not protecting the ball," said team president Glen Dembicki. "We made a few adjustments in the second half and came out and managed to shut down their offence, and then our offence got rolling, and we just came up about a yard and a half short in the end.

"I totally believe that if we had come out and even played a half–decent first half we would have definitely won the game."

The loss brought the season to an abrupt end for the defending champs – who believed they once again had the team win it all.

"It's disappointing. When you really believe that you have the best team is when it's tough," said Valleau. "If you know the other team is better than you can live with it, but we really believe that we were the best team in the league, but we just didn't show up and play like we can."

What made the loss even tougher to take was the fact the Vandals dominated the game in the second half. If the Vandals had played even a little better during the first half than they might be going back to the finals.

"It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but we also know we played a dominating second half against the Wolfpack," said Dembicki. "If that game goes a few minutes longer we definitely felt like we were going to win that game, but now we'll just have to wait until next year."

After winning the team's first title last season, the Vandals had the goal of defending their title. While the team did fall short, Dembicki knows that doesn't mean the players didn't have the same hunger or drive to win as they did last year.

"It was great to win the championship last year but it's always tougher to defend it," said Dembicki. "It's hard to say if the guys weren't quite as hungry as Grande Prairie or the Wolfpack might have been since we had already won a championship, and it's also been a couple years since either of those teams were in the championship game."

The Grande Prairie Drillers beat the Central–Alberta Buccaneers, 40–18, in the other AFL semi–final. The Wolfpack will now play the Drillers for the AFL championship.