Cinderella was not going to show up for the Notre Dame Cougars tier I high school football provincial game, but their graduating seniors were determined to go out on their terms.
The Cougars never had much of a chance against the veteran Henry Wise Wood Warriors out of Calgary on Saturday at Great Chief Park, losing 55-12, but their Grade 12s came within a finger-tip grab of ending their high school football careers in style.
They got the ball back after a shanked punt at the Warriors’ 45-yard line with two minutes to go. On the second last play Grade 12 quarterback Keegan MacDonald hit receiver Justin Fedun for 39 yards to get them down inside the Warriors’ 10-yard line with four seconds to go. On the next play, the last of the game, MacDonald rolled out to his right and saw Payton LaGrange sprinting out with him in the end zone, but with a defender in close pursuit the pass just sailed out of reach.
“The last drive was just us playing for ourselves,” said MacDonald, 17. “(Head coach Gino Castellan) let us call our own stuff, so we basically asked everyone in the huddle ‘What do we want to run?’ and we all went together and just played and had fun the last couple of minutes.”
MacDonald is not sure if this was his last game, he may end up looking to the junior or CIS levels if those opportunities arise. The possibility that football is over is not something that has really sank in for him yet.
“I think this might be the last but if I can get (an opportunity) I will take it,” said MacDonald. “It kind of sucks, but I played with a lot of great guys and had some good coaching.”
He will be joined by graduating players Eric Meraw, Taylor Lawrence, Marc Lachmann, Richard Bergeron and Jesse Kowalchuk in limbo status.
Castellan, however, says MacDonald and Kowalchuk, at least, should have opportunities elsewhere if they wanted to pursue them.
Kowalchuk led the Central Alberta High School Football League regular season with 409 yards receiving on 16 catches with four touchdowns and added a league-high four interceptions.
MacDonald had a solid year under centre with 535 passing yards while going 25-for-60 on attempts, and lead the their Tier I/Tier II division in punting with a 31.6 yard average on 37 kicks.
MacDonald finished with two touchdown passes on Saturday, a 36-yard screen to Reiss Flunder and a 41-yard bomb to Kowalchuk on a corner route.
“They’re all good,” said Castellan of his Grade 12s. “Kowalchuk and Keegan, they had a great year, they were our team leaders all year and today they showed it again.”
Saturday, however, was all about the future for the Cougars.
Playing No. 3 Henry Wise Wood allowed them to see what the top teams in the province look like in the teir I level.
The Warriors were led by quarterback Peter Zajdel who was unstoppable in the first half, hardly missing an attempt and finishing with five touchdowns passes in the first half before the Warriors went to the run for the second half.
They were big, they were strong and they overpowered the Cougars.
Most of Notre Dame’s top players were in Grade 10 this year, including running back Johannes Smith, who led the league with 884 yards on 151 carries with seven touchdowns.
“That was a good team, that’s something our kids have got to look at and say ‘OK, how do we become that good?’ It takes a lot of hard work,” said Castellan.
Other top players coming back include Jacob Plamondon, LaGrange and Fedun, while Devin Desormeau will likely take over at quarterback.
They will form a core that will have the potential to make them more than just a one-and-out team come playoff and provincials.
“They see now what it takes,” said Castellan. “Hopefully that carries forward next year and they work hard in the off-season and come into spring camp ready to play and have that hunger to win and be there. That’s why we play these games. That’s a No.3 ranked team and we deserved to lose, but we play it because that’s what we want to be like.”