The Lindsay Thurber Raiders will look in the mirror and blame themselves for an 18-9 loss to the Notre Dame Cougars in their final Central Alberta High School Football League regular season game at Great Chief Park Thursday.
On the other hand the Cougars will look in that mirror and feel proud about a solid two-way performance.
The Raiders lost more than a game as they dropped out of first place in their division, slipping behind the Hunting Hills Lightning, who earlier ran their record to 3-1-0 with a 46-10 win over the Lacombe Rams.
The Raiders finished second at 2-1-1 and will host the Rocky Mountain House West Central Rebels in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cougars finished with a 1-3 record and will host the Ponoka Broncs in a battle of the two fifth-place teams.
The Cougars jumped into a 7-0 lead at 2:54 of the first quarter when quarterback Keegan MacDonald hit Theoren Gill on a 35-yard pass and run play. Eric Meraw kicked the convert.
“We didn’t get off the bus with anything on offence or defence . . . we came out flat,” said Raiders head coach Dave Smith.
“We just didn’t do any of the things we usually do well.
“But then that team (Cougars) came to play football. Our guys thought they could just show up and win and that’s not the way it worked. Notre Dame did an excellent job, especially on defence. If we execute it may have been a different story, but . . .”
Owen Smith kicked a 20-yard field goal to put the Raiders on the board in the first quarter but Meraw came back with a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter. The Raiders then gave up a safety at 11:40 to make it 12-3 at the half.
MacDonald connected with Jesse Kowalchuk on a 66-yard touchdown pass and run at 4:01 of the third quarter while the Raiders made some noise at 5:23 of the final quarter when quarterback Braydon Moorman hit Kolbi Street on a 10-yard touchdown strike. The Raiders then failed on a two-point convert.
The Raiders had a couple of chances in the dying minutes, but a pair of interceptions killed any thoughts of a comeback.
“We just can’t keep winning games in the final quarter,” said Dave Smith, who felt his team may have been hurt by the win over the Lightning the previous week.
‘Sometimes it’s as hard to get back up after a big win as it is a loss,” he said.
“But we’re still a young team that’s still learning. This was a new experience for us. But what’s good is that we’re still in the playoffs and have a home game next week.”
Cougars head coach Gino Castilian couldn’t have been happier.
“I’m so proud of the kids. They came to play and while we may have caught them off guard a bit, as they were coming off that big win, we still played extremely well.”
Castellan can only look back at a couple of close losses to Lacombe and Sylvan Lake and think of what may have been.
“There’s no question we were one game away from making the playoffs. But the breaks didn’t go our way in terms of injuries. But it’s a learning experience for a young team and we defeated the No. 1 ranked team in our zone tonight and this will go a long way for next year.”
Parker Dahl, who moved into the offensive backfield after the season started, turned in a strong performance for the Cougars, finishing with 97 yards rushing on 17 carries before being slightly injured.
“Parker ran hard and he’s fine and will play next week,” said Castellan, whose team prepared all week for a big finish to the regular season.
“We worked all week and prepared hard for this. Our guys didn’t lay down and came to win. And we did it against a classy guy (Dave Smith) and I really respect their program.”
MacDonald rushed 10 times for 50 yards while hit on four of 10 passes for 124 yards.
Sam Vesely had 13 carries for 101 yards for the Raiders before leaving with what appeared to be a knee injury. Moorman hit on nine of 23 passes with at least four being dropped. He threw for 91 yards.
l In Rocky Mountain House the Rebels, 2-2, moved into third place in their division with a 37-20 win over the Wetaskiwin Sabres, 2-2.
Darcy Gusek had two touchdowns for the Rebels with Levi Munday, Logan Eklund and Nolan Guilfeyle adding single majors. Don Bertagnolli had four converts and a field goal.
Liam Jones, Aaron Abrahamson and Dallas McMurrer added touchdowns for the Sabres with Jesse Graff adding a two-point convert.
Gusek led the Rebels with 53 yards rushing on 12 carries while Logan Eklund grabbed four passes for 75 yards. Thomas Soodsma hit on six of 15 passes for 170 yards.
Jones led the Sabres with 45 yards rushing on seven carries while McMurrer grabbed 12 passes for 252 yards.
Abrahamson connected on 17 of 33 passes for 329 yards.