CALGARY — It’s not too often when a team shuts out the defending league champion and the coach comes away unhappy.
The Central Alberta Buccaneers blanked the Calgary Wolfpack 31-0 on Sunday to open their Alberta Football League season in Calgary, but rookie head coach Devon Hand could only think about what could have been.
They wracked up 33 penalties that dogged them all game long.
“I’m not at all happy,” said Hand. “In my 28 years of being involved in football I’ve never seen that. In the first quarter alone we had six 15-yard majors, so I was very displeased.”
He says some of the penalties may be attributed to being fired up to start the season, but some of it was just plain undisciplined football.
“We earned those. We were undisciplined and scattered, very frenetic to start the game,” said Hand.
Still they did show some flashes that lets Hand believe there is a high ceiling for this team, especially considering the play of some of his off-season recruits.
The highlight of the game for the Buccaneers was a first quarter defensive touchdown by linebacker Nick Leonidakis, who scooped up a loose ball and took it back 45 yards for the opening score.
Leonidakis is one of Hand’s big recruits out of Ontario this year.
Another newcomer, Tanner Green added a receiving touchdown as while new quarterback Jamie Fox originally out of Nanaimo, B.C., and now a local firefighter scored on a keeper. The only returning player to find pay dirt was receiver Matt Merkley who hooked up with Fox in the second half for a score.
“Pascal Plante started the game at QB, but Jamie Fox came in in the second half and put some drives together for us,” said Hand, noting the rookie pivot finished with two touchdown passes in his debut.
The running game, led by returning AFL rushing champ and rookie of the year Junior Rivera, also showed well, he even kicked a field goal. No stats were available at press time.
“He looked good, he had a couple of real nice runs and he’s only going to get better in this offence,” said Hand. “He’s one of our feature guys and he’s going to be clutch for us all year.”
Regardless of penalties and miscues, Hand was still happy with the play of his defence, though he knows they can play better.
“Anytime you come out with a shut out, you can’t complain too much, but there’s always room for improvement. We gave up a couple of big plays but we were fortunate not to give up any points,” said Hand. “I thought our inside pressure wasn’t working as good as I hoped.”
Their biggest key to victory was the play of their special teams, in particular their kick coverage that never let the Wolfpack get rolling and set up in good field position.
“They really set the tone in the second half and really came out and made some big plays,” said Hand. “They were the glue tonight and kept us on track and were consistent all night. When the other phases aren’t functioning to what the expectations are, you hope that the special teams can keep it together and they definitely did that tonight.
He is well aware that they will get a much tougher challenge in their home opener on Saturday at ME Global Field in Lacombe against the Calgary Gators at 7 p.m.
The Gators swallowed up much of the Wolfpack’s top talent following their 15th league championship last year, including star quarterback Darryl Leason and his brother and receiver Mike Leason.
In their first game as a Calgary super team, they demolished expansion team Airdrie Irish 81-7.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Hand.
“We have a huge test ahead of us next week”