A major tectonic shift took place in Central Alberta High School Football this past week, as the Lindsay Thurber Raiders dropped from tier I to tier II.
It is the first time the school has had to drop a division a move that was not expected from any football program in the region. The Raiders had played all year with the assumption they were going to be tier I, but once school numbers were submitted on Oct. 1, it became clear they were actually going to be playing provincially at a lower level. Tier I schools have a population of 1,250 — Lindsay Thurber head coach Dave Smith said they were “about 50” short.
“When we first said we were going to have to look at this, yeah I was surprised,” said Smith.
Smith says, however, they are not going to let it effect how they prepare and play. In the grand scheme of things, there was a strong chance they were going to have to win the league to move on to provincials. They had split the season series with the other tier I team in the zone, long-time rival Notre Dame Cougars (3-2).
The Raiders (4-1) will play the winless Lacombe Rams (0-5) in the first round of the playoffs and should roll into the league final, which they potentially will still have to win to move on, if the two-time league champion Hunting Hills Lightning (3-2) beats Notre Dame in the first round of the playoffs.
“It doesn’t change the way we approach things at all,” said Smith. “We had a twin goal of going as far in the (provincial) playoffs as we could and trying to win a league championship, and we still want to do that. We still have to win out in the league.”
The teams most effected, however, are Notre Dame and Hunting Hills.
Notre Dame now gets a pass into provincials as the lone tier I team in the zone and Hunting Hills now has a much tougher fight on their hands.
The Lightning thought they had a provincial spot sewn up with two easy wins over the Lacombe Rams, but now they have to beat two more tough teams in the league playoffs just to get there.
Thurber has won both of their meetings this year while Hunting Hills beat Notre Dame in their first contest and will face each other again in the regular season finale on Friday at 7 p.m.
“It throws a wrench into everything … they did that two days before we played them last week (a 28-20 Raiders win), which made that game more important than any of us knew and any of us had planned for the first month of the season,” said Hunting Hills head coach Kyle Sedgwick. “It kind of took a lot of people by surprise … Everything changed for everybody.”
But it has Hunting Hills that much more motivated to get back to the championship game.
“You want some pretty high stakes in what will already be an exciting game for a league final, and that’s fine because I don’t think we have a single player that doesn’t want a third crack at them,” said Sedgwick. “But we’re going to have eight quarters against Notre Dame and they always play us tough and they’ve been getting better all year with their young players.”
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Raiders if they make it to provincials, is they will be going in blind. They have never played at the tier II level provincially and are not familiar with any of the teams — their one measuring stick for what awaits them is the Lightning.
“Hunting Hills is one of the highest quality tier II schools in the province and we match up against them, so I’m hoping we can match up against the rest,” said Smith. “Hunting is a strong tier II school, so I’m kind of taking that as a gauge, but we’re trying very hard just to keep our eye on the next game.”