LACOMBE — It would have been easy for the Central Alberta Buccaneers to go through the motions as they wrapped up their Alberta Football League regular season against the Edmonton Raiders at the ME Global Athletic Park Saturday.
After all the Bucs went into the game, having wrapped up first place in the league while the Raiders were going to finish fifth.
But head coach Devon Hand wasn’t about to let that happen,
“We wanted to keep our starters in a bit longer as we have a bye week before the playoffs and we wanted the guys to keep their legs and keep our cohesion and we were able to do that,” he said after a 77-8 victory over the Raiders, giving the Bucs an undefeated 8-0 record for the first time in their history.
“They are a middle of the road team, on their way up, so it was a nice little test for us and we were clicking.”
That may be an understatement as the Buccaneers’ offence, led by outstanding quarterback Brandon Leyh, was unstoppable, scoring at will.
Leyh, who missed one pass in the half, tossed six touchdown passes in the first half — four to slotback Jamal Henry — as the Central Alberta crew led 63-0 at the break.
In fact the Bucs led 6-0 before the offence got on the field as Josh Blanchard took a punt back 68 yards to open the scoring at 1:41 of the first quarter. From then on it was all the Buccaneers offence.
“We’re loaded on offence this year,” said Hand.
“We knew from past years we needed to fix the offence and it was a priority. We were able to get a great quarterback and receiving core which has a lot of chemistry.”
Defensive safety and team captain Mark Fay, likes what he sees on the offensive side.
“They are a big part of our success,” he said. “This has become a recruiting league, which is completely different from when I started five years ago. We were able to recruit a super quarterback and a lot of receivers fell into our lap. The offensive line is also deep and has done a great job in protecting our quarterbacks.
“As well our OC (offensive co-ordinator David George) doesn’t receive a lot of love, but has put together a solid game plan, and Devo (Hand) is in his second year as head coach and has things pinned down.
“Having a great offence certainly makes a big difference for the defence. It gives us a lot of opportunities to make plays and we know if we do give up some points the offence will get them right back. Plus we always seem to be playing with the lead which helps a lot.”
While the positives are more than evident there is also one obvious negative — too many penalties.
“That’s a real issue,” said Hand. “And as the games get tougher it will be even more of an issue. We need to find a way to fix that or it will cost us.”
“A lot of the penalties come from being overly aggressive, which isn’t a bad thing, but we do need to clean that up,” agreed Fay.
Henry, who caught seven passes for 227 yards, tied a league record for the most touchdowns in a game, a mark also shared by Blanchard.
Jesse McPhail grabbed a pair of touchdown tosses from Leyh, who only played the first half. Major Newman scored a second-half touchdown on a pass from Lacombe native Judah Knipp. Jarred Bouret had an eight-year touchdown run in the first quarter and Stas McPhail a three-yard run in the third. Steven Adu scored the other Buccaneers touchdown on a 36-yard interception return in the second quarter.
Tylor Johanesson kicked 10 converts and a single. Isaiha Nice scored for the Raiders on a three-yard run in the fourth quarter. Troy Anderson had a two point convert on a pass.
Henry finished the season with 1,079 yards receiving, which is fifth best for a season, just 150 yards short of first. He also had 13 touchdowns, second most for a season.
Leyh, who only played about half a game, had 2,689 total yards, putting him eighth for a single season. His 37 touchdowns was third most while his 70 percent completion rate, 15.6 yards-per catch and no interceptions were the highest.
Johanesson has a career high 32 interceptions while Nick Leondakis tied for the most fumble recoveries in a season and Ryan Miller tied for the most forced fumbles in a season.
The Buccaneers will host the winner of the St. Albert Stars and Raiders quarter-final game on Aug,. 20 at 4 p.m. A win will put them in the league final, Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. If the Bucs, who are ranked No. 1 in Canada, win the league they host the National final, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.