Red Deer Buccaneers head coach Duane Brown needed just one word to describe their 14-9 Alberta Football League loss to the expansion Fort McMurray Monarchs on Saturday at MEGlobal Athletic Park in Lacombe.
“Embarrassing,” he said. “The entire first half we could not execute anything, we couldn’t do a hand off, we couldn’t catch the ball, we couldn’t run the ball, we couldn’t throw the ball and the offence clearly let the defence down, they played an amazing game.”
The Buccaneers offence was as dysfunctional as a Jerry Springer cast. It took them until the fourth quarter to get over the midfield stripe, and that only lasted one play as they were called for holding and brought back to their own 50-yard line. In the process they committed seven turnovers and another two on special teams. Of their nine points, their offence accounted for none of them. It was plain bad.
Their lone touchdown was scored on a botched punt attempt as Matt Merkley picked up the fumbled snap, found a lane and ran 95 yards for a touchdown, Tylor Johnson kicked the point after. Their other two points came via a surrendered safety by the Monarchs at the end of the game.
But it also meant their defence was stout.
As bad as the Bucs’ offence was, Fort McMurray almost matched them, but that was more due to the tenacity and aggressiveness of the Bucs, as opposed to outright dropping the ball.
The Central Alberta front four gave Fort McMurray quarterbacks Chris Piercey and Jacob Welsh no room to breath on Saturday, and put them on the run all game. When they did get the ball away, they were met by the likes of rookie linebacker Mitch Martel or defensive backs Keegan and Kenton Poelszer, Tylor Johnson and Jordan Willie, who shut down the Monarchs’ top offensive star Kwami Osei.
They put on a tackling clinic.
“From start to finish, they were a powerful, dominant team, that’s what they have been all year, the last two years,” said Brown of his defensive unit.
The Monarchs scored one touchdown on a punt return by Dylan Elias in the second quarter, the other came off the only sustained drive for either team in the second half, finished off by fullback David Bosch on a one-yard run off tackle.
This was the second big game in a row for the Poelzer brothers, who have turned into leaders in the Buccaneers secondary.
Both play aggressively, tackle hard and fly around the ball. Rarely is either beat for a big play.
“They’re two very different men,” said Brown. “It’s cool to see, that brother relationship and how they work off each other and it’s fun to watch.”
Neither, however, played football growing up in high school. Kenton, 33, came the closest, playing rugby. Keegan, 30, meanwhile, was a hockey player. But they both loved football.
While the two were living together in Edmonton in their early-mid 20s they decided to come out for the then Red Deer Buccaneers as job opportunities brought them back home.
That was eight years ago.
“We play now just to play together as brothers, and as brothers with the rest of the guys on the team,” said Kenton, who stands in at six-foot-one and 195 pounds and is an accountant in his professional life. “It’s a lot of fun playing together.”
As expected, there was some difficulty in picking up a sport on the fly, but it wasn’t the physicality. They have that in spades.
“The toughest thing to pick up is not to let the mental stuff beat you,” said Keegan, who is five-foot-10, 190 pounds. “You start looking too much, you start over thinking and you just have to react. The more you think about it, the worse it is … just do your job.”
The loss on Saturday was a hard one to swallow, but both refused to point the finger at the offence, looking to themselves and opportunities the defence had to stop the Monarchs or put points on the board themselves.
The defeat dropped them back to .500 on the season with one regular season game left on the schedule, Aug. 9 in St. Albert against the Stars.
Their expectations still remain high for a long playoff run.
“I really feel like we have a championship-calibre defence, and if clean up a couple of mistakes on defence and everywhere, we’ll be good,” said Keegan.
The game against the Stars will carry extra motivation. The Stars upset the Buccaneers in the playoffs last year as the Central Albertans were primed for a run at the title after a 5-1 regular season.
“Every day, every practice, every time I go to the gym (I remember it),” said Keegan. “It’s not a nice feeling.”