With a 13-point lead and under five minutes remaining, the Hunting Hills Lightning were on their way to the provincial bantam tier 2 football championship game.
And then they weren’t.
Logan Clarkson scored his fourth touchdown of the game — on a 17-yard run around the left side — with 4:28 left in Saturday’s South regional final versus the Calgary Mavericks at Great Chief Park, giving the Lightning a 39-26 lead.
Then the unthinkable occurred.
Joshua duPlessis returned the ensuing kick-off all the way to the Hunting Hills end zone and Veljko Ponjevic added a convert to cut the Lightning lead to six points.
After Clarkson was stopped short on a third-and-two at midfield, Mavericks running back Michael Delgado — on the very next play — took off on a 54-yard touchdown run. Ponjevic’s convert made it 40-39 Calgary, and the Mavs added a late major for good measure, with Delgado racing 42 yards to paydirt.
And just like that, the visitors, with the addition of a two-point conversion on their final touchdown, were 48-39 winners and had punched their ticket to the provincial final set for Saturday against the Calgary Hilltoppers.
“It was heart-breaking,” said Lightning head coach Josh Sorensen.
“The kids really left everything they had on the field, there’s no doubt about that.”
The late collapse had everything to do with a handful of key Lightning players simply running out of steam, said Sorensen.
“Unfortunately we had a few of our star players playing both ways and at the end they just had no energy,” said the coach. “They left everything out there. They had nothing left in them and you could see that at the end.”
The Mavericks jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead on a 69-yard touchdown run by Michael Delgado and a 13-yard field goal courtesy of Jonathan Giustini, but the Lightning cut the margin to three points on a 60-yard scoring run by Logan Clarkson, who bolted up the middle while shedding three tackles.
Hunting Hills then moved in front early in the second quarter when quarterback Tristan Taylor hit Haidan Brown with a 12-yard scoring pass. From there, the lead changed on four occasions before the Lightning seemingly built a comfortable cushion late in the game.
“It was one of the more intense and exciting games I’ve ever been a part of in all my years of football,” said Sorensen. “It was back and forth all game.”
Clarkson scored four majors for the Lightning, and — on a halfback option — also tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Evan Larsen. Dolan Hills had the other Hunting Hills major.
Delgado found the Lightning end zone five times and Giustini added a 17-yard field goal for the Mavericks.
“It was an amazing season, the first year both the Hunting Hills junior and senior teams won Central Alberta league titles,” said Sorensen. “I’m looking forward to next year. I have a strong nucleus of players coming back.”
• The Lacombe Raiders were 42-22 losers to the Cardston Cougars in a South bantam tier 3 semifinal and the Red Deer Steelers dropped a 40-30 decision to Bonnyville in the provincial peewee tier 3 final.