Central Alberta Buccaneer Curtis Dreger

Central Alberta Buccaneer Curtis Dreger

Buccaneers win first playoff game in six years

The Central Alberta Buccaneers went into the Alberta Football League season with one goal in mind — host a playoff game. They accomplished that when they finished fourth in the league and took on the Calgary Gators in a quarter-final match up.

Buccaneers 35 Gators 30

LACOMBE — The Central Alberta Buccaneers went into the Alberta Football League season with one goal in mind — host a playoff game.

They accomplished that when they finished fourth in the league and took on the Calgary Gators in a quarter-final match up.

Their next goal was simple — win in front of their home town fans.

Mission accomplished when they held off the defending league silver medalists 35-30 at ME Global Athletic Park Saturday afternoon.

“We set the goal of hosting a playoff game, but it wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t win in front of our fans,” said Buccaneers head coach Duane Brown. “So to be able to accomplish that was a huge step going forward for this team.”

The Bucs were well deserving of the victory as they turned in a solid game offensively and did what they had to do on defence when it mattered.

After leading 14-3 early the Bucs fell behind 17-14 at the half before slowly taking control in the second half behind the passing of quarterback Byron Stearns and the running of halfback Kenton Poelzer.

The Bucs led 35-24 with under there minutes in the fourth quarter before the Gators made it interesting. They scored with 1:23 remaining when quarterback Dan Strikitis found Justin Queiroga in the end zone. The two-point convert failed as did the short kick attempt.

The Bucs ran two plays and kicked with Matt Merkley pinning the Gators deep in their end. Three plays later the Bucs were advancing into the semifinals next Saturday in Grande Prairie.

“I’m thrilled with what we accomplished,” said Brown. “We couldn’t have asked for a harder game, and a better game, to prepare us for the next round.”

Poelzer, playing his first game after recovering from a foot injury, rushed 18 times for 155 yards and three touchdowns. His final major was on an 80-yard romp in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference in the game.

“The guys did a great job of blocking as everyone had their guy and all I had to do was beat the safety,” explained Poelzer, who said he felt fine.

“I’m not 100 per cent, but I didn’t hurt anything.”

Poelzer also gave Stearns a lot of credit for the victory.

“We came out running the ball and when they finally paid attention to it and shut it down in the second quarter we had to go to the pass,” he said. “Byron put the game on his shoulders, which eventually opened up the ground game again.”

Merkley caught a pair of touchdown passes from Stearns while Tylor Johnson kicked four converts and ran in a two-point convert.

“It feels good,” said Poelzer. “It’s the first time a lot of us get to play in the semifinals and we’re looking forward to it. Grande Prairie beat us the first time when we were shorthanded (71-0) and we’re ready for them this time.

“This game helped us a lot. We knew they’d be tough and they played well.”

Brown gave Stearns and Poelzer a lot of credit.

“Byron is a rookie in the league, but he’s proving to be an all-star. He’s a smart, smart football player and with him and Kenton it’s nice to have two options. It was great to have Kenton back as the guys feed off his energy. That long run in the fourth quarter sealed the game for us.”

Stearns connected on 10 of 20 pass attempts for 205 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while Merkley grabbed four balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

The defence was solid and finished with five interceptions — two by Jordan Willie and one each from Curtis Dreger, Joel Sather and Johnson.

The other semifinal sees the defending league champion Lloydminster Vandals at the Calgary Wolfpack on Saturday.

The Vandals advanced with a 30-0 win over the Edmonton Stallions.

drode@bprda.wpengine.com