The cliché goes you learn more from a loss, but Notre Dame Cougars head coach Gino Castellan is hoping his team learned plenty from their win over the Lacombe Rams.
The Cougars beat the Rams 35-20 on Thursday at Great Chief Park on Central Alberta High School Football League action, despite 185 yards in penalties on 20 flags.
“I thought our kids played well, we just shot ourselves in the foot, time after time,” said Castellan. “That’s tough to win a lot of games with almost 200 yards in penalties.”0
The penalties stalled drives for Notre Dame, extended drives for Lacombe and even brought back a 100-yard kick off return touchdown by Jesse Kowalchuk for objectionable conduct as he started his celebration 10-yards before the end zone.
Their equalizer, however, was Grade 10 running back Johannes Smith who had 214 yards on 28 carries and four touchdowns.
Smith showed great burst and separation ability, particularly on the game’s first score, a 51-yard score as he took the ball on a toss left and cut the ball back up to the right all the way to the end zone.
“He’s a tough cookie,” said Castellan. “He runs hard and he doesn’t quit. If you look at his stats, a lot of his stats are yards after contact … and that’s just toughness. He just goes and he doesn’t quit and that’s what you want out of a running back.”
Smith also had touchdown runs of three, five and a game clinching 19 yards with 30 seconds to go on a broken play. Quarterback Keegan MacDonald fumbled the snap out of the shot gun, but managed to get the ball to Smith as he was falling forward. The major put the Cougars up by 15 points.
“It feels great It’s good to know that when you play hard it comes off,” said Smith.
MacDonald finished 4-for-6 for 78 yards and a touchdown, hooking up with Beko Wande from 30 yards out on a corner route at 2:13 of fourth quarter. Kowalchuck had three receptions for 48 yards.
The Notre Dame played well to keep the Lacombe passing attack under wraps, holding Rams QB Zachary Bailey to 9-for-20 and 82 yards, one interception and two touchdowns, the longest score being a 15-yard pass to wide out Cam Heslop while Lucas Wessner had one for eight yards.
Kowalchuk had the interception for Notre Dame, while Franz Credo dropped a couple of other sure interceptions for the Cougars.
Another stand out defensively for Notre Dame was another Grade 10 player, Jacob Plamondon who had a couple of sacks in the second half and played well for most of the four quarters.
“(The key was) to keep our eyes up and looking and reading the play if it was going to the left or going to the right,” he said. “Their line wasn’t really blocking as well as I expected, so as soon as they’d miss their block I’d take the run.”
At six-foot-two and 15 years old, he already has the frame to develop into a dominant defensive player, just give him a couple of more years at the level.
“He’s a tough kid and he’s a big kid, he can be a very good football player if he puts his mind to it,” said Castellan.
“He’s got the frame, he’s got the speed, he’s a good player for a Grade 10 kid. He’s learning, it’s different than bantam, so he’s learning lots and he’s just going to get better game after game.”
Most importantly, the win guarantees the Cougars at leas a share of first place heading into the second last week of the season with contests against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders and Hunting Hills Lightning still on tap — they play the Raiders on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park. The Raiders and the Lightning play tonight at 7 p.m.
Castellan is not getting too ahead of himself just yet.
“It’s not a big deal because we’re going to play a team three times this year,” he said. “Where you end up is irrelevant. Winning is always good for the kids, but as long as you’re getting better every week, that’s what counts.”