LACOMBE — The Lloydminster Vandals had no chance.
The 2012 national champions showed up in Lacombe on Saturday night to take on the Central Alberta Buccaneers with just 19 players, the end result was a predictable 66-6 blow out as the Bucs improved to 4-1 on the Alberta Football League season.
The Vandals fought to the last whistle, but ran out of gas somewhere in the third quarter.
“You’ve got to give those guys a lot of respect for coming all of the way down here with a light squad, in the heat and they compete the way they did, a bunch of classy guys, real tough guys,” said Buccaneers head coach Devon Hand. “I thought we competed and we did what we set out to do which was have a statement game run the ball, score some points, play solid defence, play super physical, we did all that, I’m happy with that.”
The hard-luck Vandals were coming off of their first win in two seasons on June 28 — 28-14 over the Calgary Wolfpack — after their national championship team was quickly dismantled with players transferring to different programs or leaving football altogether. This weekend was an example of some of the difficulty they have had in getting commitment from players as they lost several to the Craven Country Jamboree, while other had prior engagements or were injured.
It was a long process to build the Vandals into the perennial power they once were, but they are trying to re-build back from square one.
But there has been on constant with the club from Day 1 of the franchise 12 years ago, team president and receiver Glen Dembicki.
“We definitely feel we have the arrow pointing up from the past few seasons,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, a good core group of guys and a more local team to Lloyd now. It’s more of a hometown feel than when we had a lot of travelling players.”
On Saturday, it was really over before it started.
The Buccaneers racked up a 43-6 lead at half time on touchdown runs by running back Junior Rivera and Tanner Green while quarterback Pascal Plante hit Matt Merkley for a 31-yard touchdown reception and quarterback Jamie Fox connected with Axsivier Lawrence for an 18-yard touchdown reception. Cornerback Tylor Johanesson added an 88-yard interception for a touchdown while kicking two field goals of 22 and 31 yards.
The Bucs were also the recipient of a surrendered safety by Lloydminster, with their offence backed up on third down. The Vandals scored their only points of the game in the half on a 34 yard quarterback bootleg by second-year pivot Mike Holman who left everyone in his dust, but Bucs defensive captain mark Fay blocked the extra point.
The game clock mercifully switched to straight time in the second half, but the Buccaneers still managed to stretch the lead out further as Fox connected for two more touchdown passes, first to Merkley on a 20-yard corner route, and then a 75-yard catch and run play with Green over the middle. The Vandals also gave up one more safety in the third quarter. Running back Brett Lapointe added one more score on the ground, running for 42 yards over an exhausted Vandals defence late in the fourth quarter.
Though it was a completely one-sided affair for the Buccaneers, it did allow their struggling offence to seemingly get on track. Plante had his best game as a Buccaneer, for the first time all season looking comfortable with the offence while Fox finished with three touchdowns and his one interception came on the last play of the first half as he threw it up for grabs with Dembicki coming down with it.
The running game also kept ploughing along. Though stats were not available at press time, they easily extended their streak of 200-plus rushing yards to three games.
In the end the score could have been much worse as the Bucs had several touchdowns called back on penalties.
“You’re happy to out up points, but at the same time you have to consider the opponent and then you don’t want to get to far ahead of yourself,” said Hand. It wasn’t long ago that we were on the other side of those types of scores, where Lloydminster came in here and put 70 or 80 (points) on us, so you can never forget where you came from. You learn from it, you move on and you don’t get too fat and happy.”
The defence also played lights out, with just the one breakdown on Holman’s 34-yard scramble for a touchdown. They shut down the Vandals’ running game and held the passing game in check, breaking up several passes.
Johanesson finished with two interceptions and the touchdown, while he had another pick-six called back on a penalty.
He is looking forward to their showdown with the Fort McMurray Monarchs (4-1) — coming off a 100-0 win over the Airdrie Irish (0-5) on Saturday — that will determine home field advantage. The two teams meet on July 25 at 7 p.m. at Lacombe.
“The thing with them is they believe in their guys, they don’t care about me, they can watch me and see that I got two picks today and two picks last week, they don’t care,” said Johanesson.
“They think they’re better than us, which works good for me because I think I’m better than them. They’re going to challenge me and their going to challenge our other (defensive backs) … I want to be challenged, to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. I’m really looking forward to it and I know our guys are too.”
NOTES — The Buccaneers debuted three new players, running back Neil Daniels from the Calgary Gators and Fort McMurray defensive backs Steven Adu and Michael Asare.