Photo by JOSH ALDRICH/Advocate staff -- for story for Josh -- Central Alberta Buccaneer Tylor Johnson (5) intercepts a pass over Calgary Wolfpack receiver James Balsdon (13) during the Alberta Football League 2014 opener at MEGlobal Atheltic Park in Lacombe on Saturday

Bucs blow up Wolfpack in opener

The Central Alberta Buccaneers were out for respect in their Alberta Football League season opener, and they earned just that. The Bucs beat perennial powerhouse Calgary Wolfpack 39-17 at MEGlobal Athletic Park in Lacombe on Saturday night, thanks in large part to a stingy defensive performance.

The Central Alberta Buccaneers were out for respect in their Alberta Football League season opener, and they earned just that.

The Bucs beat perennial powerhouse Calgary Wolfpack 39-17 at MEGlobal Athletic Park in Lacombe on Saturday night, thanks in large part to a stingy defensive performance.

They entered the game with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, believing the rest of the league thought their 5-1 campaign in 2013 was a fluke.

But that motivation was destructive until they managed to get themselves under control.

Veteran defensive back Tylor Johnson came out too jacked up and took a couple of bad penalties, including one for objectionable conduct early in the third quarter. He was pulled off the field by head coach Duane Brown and given a stern talking to by 12-year veteran Dave Henderson .

After that, Johnson took over the game.

Following the flag, he deflected three passes and intercepted another, turning the momentum and really changing the attitude of the home team.

“It was really emotional, we’ve been preparing for this game for a month-and-a-half now,” said the fifth year player. “The first time we ever beat this team was last year and the predictions were that they were going to destroy us today and we came in ready to go. The emotions today, after the game, are pretty intense.”

Johnson also kicked three field goals — two from 19 yards and one from 39 — and four extra points. Wide receiver Matt Merkley had two touchdown catches while Taylor Waldbauer and rookie running back Edwin Rivera Jr. had one each. The Bucs also added a fourth quarter safety

Gordon Swindells had a touchdown reception and Matt Huntley had a two-yard touchdown run for the Wolfpack and Morgan Willis Jones had a field goal and two extra points.

The Wolfpack had a 10-7 lead, however after the first half.

Brown did not split hairs on about the impact his starting right cornerback had in changing the game’s momentum.

“He did exactly what you’re supposed to do, which is take your frustration out on the other team,” said the head coach.

There was much curiosity about the Bucs this year after several key players moved on, including star middle linebacker Curtis Dreger, starting quarterback Byron Sterns and the league’s top offensive lineman Sean O’Donnell, who jumped to the Wolfpack.

But, after they shook their first half rust, they looked every bit as good as the team that emerged as a contender last year.

One of the big reasons why they return to that status this year is the addition of Rivera, who showed the speed, agility and versatility that made him a viable recruit for Vanier College in Montreal. The scholarship fell through, but two years later the Ontario product appears to have found a home in Red Deer with the Bucs.

“We’ve known since Day 1, when we saw him on the practice field, that kid is the real deal and phenomenal and exciting to watch,” said Brown. “I can’t wait until our offensive package is big enough that it can really exploit what he can do.”

The five-foot-eight Rivera, 20, is just happy to be able to play football. The coaching staff is already showing confidence in him, giving him the ball late in the second half to put the game away.

“I felt great coming in and our O-line stepped up huge and allowed me to have a huge game,” he said.

But there is still much work to be done for the Buccaneers.

Penalties reared their ugly throughout the game, stalling some of their own drives, but more devastatingly extending several Wolfpack drives. Their special teams also need to get better, according to Brown.

Despite putting 39 points on the board, their offence misfired for much of the first half and veteran pivot Josh Achtemichuk through three interceptions in addition to his four touchdowns.

“He was a little nervous,” said Brown. “He was the starting quarterback on this team years ago, and he unfortunately played in the era when the Wolfpack destroyed us. He was a little excited because he knew he had the weapons today to do it. But his nerves settled down and he settled in and he just rolled it from there.”

The Wolfpack entered the game without playing an exhibition game, and it showed.

Though the game swung in the third quarter, star quarterback Darryl Leason looks to a missed opportunity at the second half that really hurt them. On third-and-two yards inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line, they went for it and made it, but a holding penalty dragged the ball back 10 yards and they had to settle for a field goal.

It sapped their momentum and instead of a seven-point lead they had just a three point lead at the break. Things spiralled downward after they lost their starting fullback Matt Squires in the third quarter to a concussion.

“You never win a national championship in your first game,” said Leason, who finished with two touchdowns and an uncharacteristic three interceptions. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, it’s best that this happened to us in Game 1 and we know what we have to improve on and work on and hopefully the guys are committed and come out and work hard and get back to where we are used to playing football.”

Leason is in his 15th season in the AFL, and says the league is stronger now than it ever has been, especially with the emergence of the Buccaneers.

Despite a lot of miles on his right arm, he has no plans of packing it in yet.

“There’s still fire down below there — a little less after you get beat up like tonight — but it’s fun,” said Leason who set career highs with 633 yards and nine touchdowns on 45 of 55 passing in 2012 against the Bucs.

The Buccaneers host the Grande Prairie Drillers on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Just Posted

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for… Continue reading

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

EDMONTON — Opponents of a private member’s bill that calls for more… Continue reading

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

OTTAWA — Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to… Continue reading

Saskatchewan government considers funding first supervised consumption site

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s health minister says the government will consider whether to… Continue reading

Thousands fill City Hall Park for Red Deer Lights the Night

With the flip of a switch, downtown Red Deer was filled with… Continue reading

Central Albertans help families during holidays with Christmas Wish Breakfast

It takes a community to help a community. And Sunday morning at… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Nov. 19 The Mountview Sunnybrook Community Association will hold its AGM at… Continue reading

‘Ford v Ferrari’ speeds to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels’ fizzles

NEW YORK — “Ford v Ferrari” put its competition in the rearview,… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

WINNIPEG — A terminally ill cancer patient who recorded a video from… Continue reading

Five things to watch for when Trudeau shuffles his cabinet this week

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil his new… Continue reading

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

VANCOUVER — A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows… Continue reading

Rowing Canada, university investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

VANCOUVER — Lily Copeland felt she had found her purpose in life… Continue reading

MacKinnon scores OT winner, Avs recover from blowing late lead to beat Canucks

VANCOUVER — Nathan MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game 27… Continue reading

White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get… Continue reading

Most Read