The promise and youth that is the Central Alberta Buccaneers cost them in the end.
The Bucs were eliminated in the Alberta Football League playoffs with a 23-8 loss to the Grande Prairie Drillers on Saturday in Grande Prairie.
It was a game the Buccaneers dominated in most aspects except finishing drives, settling for field goals, in which they were only good on one of three attempts.
The Bucs also had a safety and two singles off of their missed field goals.
“We weren’t able to punch it in the end zone and that was basically the difference in the game,” said head coach Duane Brown. “Yardage wise and time of possession, we dominated the game and to do that and not win is very frustrating.”
The coach’s disappointment was evident. This was not the way the season was supposed to go after finishing 2013 5-1 before being upset in the first round by the St. Albert Stars. They were supposed to build off that season and take a step closer to the region’s first league title since the Red Deer Sooners won in 1998.
As the injuries mounted, however, they had to lean on more youth and suffered several close losses to finish the season 3-4 and in sixth spot. This put them on the road for a tough playoff game and they were unable to overcome a veteran Drillers squad.
But what did shine through is the future of the club.
Rookie quarterback Cole Stewart threw for nearly 200 yards and no interceptions, but was let down by several critical drops.
Meanwhile, rookie running back Junior Rivera ran for 150 yards and added another 75 yards receiving.
He had already locked up the league’s rushing title with 660 yards on 96 rushes, 305 yards better than second on the list — Lloydminster Vandals quarterback Mike Holman.
He was also named to the league’s all-star team.
“If he’s not the rookie of the year in this league then there is something seriously wrong with the voting process,” said Brown.
Defensively, the Buccaneers were dominant. They had three bad plays all game and it cost them. The rest of the game, they teed off on their hosts. They sacked the Drillers’ quarterback six times, led by defensive Ian Keetch with three. Josh Achtemichuk and Jordan Willie also had one each.
Willie also had an interception, as did Keegan Poelzer.
“It was a phenomenal day for Willie, he’s a great player,” said Brown.
Their defence was well represented on the all-star team with Willie, Keetch, Tylor Johnson and Kenton Poelzer all getting the nod. Poelzer and Keetch finished two-three in total sacks in the regular season with 7.5 and 6.5 respectively. Dave Bosch of the Fort McMurray Monarchs led the AFL with 8.5.
Wide receiver Matt Merkley joined Rivera as an offensive all-star.
All that’s left for the Bucs is their year end wrap up at the end of September, then it’s hitting the gym and recruiting trail knowing better days are ahead.
“It was great learning for those guys and great practical experience for those guys who will be the heart and soul of this team for years to come,” said Brown.