The Hunting Hills Lightning defence was electric on a cool Thursday evening at Great Chief Park.
The Lightning defenders held the Notre Dame Cougars offence to 199 yards in total as Hunting Hills posted a 24-0 win in a Central Alberta High School Football League City Division semifinal played in front of 339 fans.
The second semifinal, featuring the Lacombe Rams and favoured Lindsay Thurber Raiders, goes tonight at 7 p.m. at Great Chief.
The Lightning defence surrendered 133 yards to Cougars running back and league rushing champion Johannes Smith, but very little else. The run defence was in sharp contrast to the previous week when Smith rambled for 249 yards in a 35-8 loss to Hunting Hills.
“Our defence was very good today, they played well,” said Lightning head coach Kyle Sedgwick. “Last week I thought they had a real rough time against their (Cougars’) ground game. Tonight we really tried to correct that.
“The toughest thing is to play teams back to back. Last year we played Lacombe and a couple of weeks later played them again in a semifinal and it was a much harder game. I think the score last week was not indicative of how the game went and it was tough to get our guys into that proper mindset for tonight’s game.”
The Lightning didn’t score until late in the first quarter when quarterback Brett Barrett hit Brandt Burzuk with a six-yard screen pass, then didn’t add to the total until the final minute of the opening half when Eder Arias booted a 35-yard field goal.
“We came out and made some terrible mental mistakes early in the game, but that field goal near the end of the half was big,” said Sedgwick.
“It was a big three points because we started the series on our own 10-yard line.”
The Lightning put the game away with a strong third-quarter performance that yielded two touchdowns on runs of 46 yards by Linden Petersen and six yards by Burzuk. Arias converted both majors as well as Burzuk’s first-half touchdown.
“Our guys realized at the half that this is a hard-fighting, well-coached team we’re playing and this is a semifinal,” said Sedgwick.
“I think that was the best third quarter we’ve played all year. Our defence held strong even when the young guys went in.
“We’ve had a strong defence all year. It’s just that every now and then we hurt ourselves, which we did last week against their (Cougars’) running game and when we play teams like Thurber we sometimes get out of position. Tonight was a just a good team effort all around.”
Burzuk led all rushers with 150 yards on 13 carries, while Petersen carried five times for 11 yards.
“That’s an experienced O-line. We have four returning starters which is pretty rare in high school football,” said Sedgwick. “Burzuk ran well and Linden Petersen . . . when he sees a lane and gets to full speed he’s tough to catch. That’s what you need out of your Grade 12s, and we’re going to need that out of every player in the final, for sure.
“It’s nice to be back in final for a fifth straight year and whoever we play it’s going to be a tough one. It always is at this time of the year.”
Sedgwick also praised Barrett, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 143 yards before being replaced by Eric Thomson in the fourth quarter. Zach Morgan was Barrett’s favourite target, hauling in four balls for 57 yards.
Cougars quarterback Keegan MacDonald was good on seven pass attempts for 54 yards and drove his team to the Hunting Hills four-yard line late in the game before being intercepted in the end zone. Jesse Kowalchuk had one catch for a team-high 33 yards.
“That’s a good team we played tonight. Burzuk and Petersen are good players,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “But we hung in there and I thought our defence played well. They (Lightning) had a few big plays and we just couldn’t move the ball. If you don’t score points you’re not going to win.
“But I’m happy . . . our young kids played well. It’s a learning curve. From the time we played Bev Facey (prior to the start of the regular season) until now, we’re leaps and bounds ahead. And we still have another two weeks so we’re going to get better.”
Notre Dame will take on the loser of today’s semifinal in the division consolation final next week and then — as the lone Central zone tier 1 school — will host a Calgary team in a provincial playoff game Nov. 8 at Great Chief Park.
The winner of the City Division final will advance to the provincials as the Central zone tier 2 representative.