Cougars lead Central Alberta teams into provincial playoffs
For the first time in nine years Central Alberta will be represented in the provincial high school tier I football championships.
The Notre Dame Cougars make their first appearance at the tier I level when they clash with the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute Rams at 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Lethbridge Community Stadium.
The Lindsay Thurber Raiders were the last team to vie for the tier I title when they dropped a 49-20 decision to the Rams in 2003.
Since then the Central Alberta representatives, mainly the Raiders, opted out as they believed they weren’t competitive.
Cougars head coach Gino Castellan believes the addition of the minor programs in Red Deer and area, play a major role in the strengthening of the Central Alberta League.
“The atom, peewee, bantam and now midget, programs are paying dividends,” he said. “Look at all the teams in the provincials this year who have benefitted from those leagues . . . and they’re all ranked.”
The Cougars are one of four teams out of the Central Alberta League to play on Saturday.
The fourth-ranked Hunting Hills Lightning are in the tier II semifinals and meet the fifth-ranked Springbank Phoenix at 11:30 a.m. at Encana Field at Shouldice Park in Calgary.
The defending champion and fourth-ranked Stettler Wildcats are in tier III and host the third-ranked St. Paul Lions in north semifinal action at 1 p.m. while in the tier IV north semifinals the sixth-ranked West Central Rebels of Rocky Mountain House are at the fifth-ranked Cold Lake Royals at 1 p.m.
The Cougars go into the championships ranked eighth while the Rams are fifth.
Castellan knows they’ll have their hands full with the Rams, who beat the Raymond Comets 54-7 in their league playoffs.
‘We’ve watched them on two videos and they’re a very quick, fast team, but I think we match up well with them,” he said. “They’re primarily a running team with a quick quarterback, who we have to contain.”
Castellan feels the fact the Cougars played Stettler in the league semifinals and Hunting Hills in the final — a 27-26 loss — will only help heading into the provincials.
“Hunting hills definitely helped prepare us,” said Castellan. “They run a diversified offence and the Rams quarterback isn’t as shifty as Scott (Lighting’s quarterback Scott Pearson). As well Stettler has an outstanding running game and we did a good job against them.
“The thing is if we do our job we’ll have success.”
The winner of the Cougars-Rams contest meets the winner of the all-Calgary semifinal between the Henry Wise Wood Warriors and Notre Dame Pride. If the Cougars win they will host the game Nov. 17.
In the north, the top-ranked Spruce Grove Panthers meet the Grande Prairie Warriors and the Jasper Place Rebels clash with the Bev Facey Falcons.
Lightning head coach Kyle Sedgwick has seen the Phoenix only once, but was impressed.
“It was tough to tell from only one game, but their defence is fast, they have tall receivers and their quarterback does a good job of getting the ball out on time,” he said. “They’re a veteran team with 21 Grade 12s..”
The Lightning don’t have as much experience, but have consistently improved as the season wore on, especially on defence.
“I believe we’re starting to peak at the right time,” said Sedgwick. “Two years ago (a 11-3 loss to St. Mary’s) we were beat up while we’re healthy this year.”
Running back Matt Russell is getting healthier all the time. He returned from an ankle injury last week and was “about 75 per cent” against the Cougars.
Sedgwick knows he’ll need to not only run, but pass to have success.
“They have a strong defence and used just six in the box in their win over Foothills and they shut down the run, which allowed them to send six back in coverage. We’ll just have to make sure we block well.”
The top-ranked Catholic Central Cougars of Lethbridge and St. Mary’s Saints of Calgary clash in the other south semifinal while up north the Lloydminster Barons take on the Edmonton McNally Tigers and the St. Joseph’s Celtics of Grande Prairie clash with the Edmonton Austin O’Brien Crusaders.
In tier III, the Peace River Pioneers and St. Albert Skyhawks meet in the other north semifinal while the Medicine Hat Crescent Heights Vikings take on the Cochrane Cobras and the Olds Spartans meet the Winston Churchill Bulldogs of Lethbridge in the south.
The Ardrossan Bisons and Sexsmith Sabres clash in the other tier IV north semifinals while in the south the Pincher Creek Mustangs meet the Drumheller Titans and the High River Highwood Mustangs take on the Willow Creek Cobras of Claresholm.
l In six-man play, the Rimbey Spartans downed the J.C. Charyk Hawks of Taber 48-6 in south semifinal play Tuesday and will face the winner between the Jasper Glaciers and Frank Maddock Warriors of Drayton Valley.
The Eastglen Blue Devils face the Westwood Trojans of Fort McMurray and the Father Mercredi Trappers of Fort McMurray take on the Mill Woods Christian Royals of Edmonton in the north.
l Central Alberta teams will also be busy in the bantam playoffs Saturday.
The Lindsay Thurber Raiders visit the Stony Plain Blue Bombers in tier II semifinal play at 11 a.m. at John Bright Park in Edmonton while in tier III semifinal play the Olds Bulldogs clash with the Calgary Wildcats at 2 p.m. at Shouldice Park in Calgary.
In tier IV the Drumheller Titans, who play in the Central Alberta League, host the Medicine Hat Hawks and the Camrose Buffaloes host the Grande Prairie Broncos.
l In peewee action, the Lacombe Explosion visits the Calgary Stampeders in tier III semifinal play at 1 p.m. at Shouldice Park with the winner meeting the Parkland Predators in the final.
In the tier IV semifinal the Stettler Panthers visit the Lloydminster Colts with the winner advancing against the St. Albert Colts.