LACOMBE — The Red Deer Buccaneers knew they were going to be in tough in their home opener, but they did not think it would get as ugly as it did.
The Calgary Gators crushed the Buccaneers 50-6 at ME Global Athletic Park in Lacombe on Saturday.
Coming off a 30-0 waxing of the Calgary Wolfpack in their Alberta Football League season opener, they were expecting a much better game than what they showed up with.
“I hate it and we need to be better, plain and simple,” said Buccaneers defensive captain Mark Fay.
In the end they were their open worst enemy as they were unable to convert on their opportunities and gave the Gators far too many chances, and with the Calgary offence that’s a deadly combination.
The Bucs actually played well for the first quarter, keeping the Gators off the scoreboard until late in a defensive battle.
Until the Gators blocked a Pascal Plante punt and took over on the Red Deer 40 yard line at 12:50 of the opening frame. A few plays later and aging veteran quarterback Darryl Leason hit Nathan Heather for a touchdown from 19 yards out on the final play of the quarter.
That score opened the flood gates and the Gators scored 28 more points in the second quarter to take a 35-0 lead into the break.
Leason finished the day with four touchdown passes and an interception while Jordan Heather — who actually started under centre and rotated series with Leason — had two touchdown passes.
“Until the big mistakes happened, we were right in there with them,” said Buccaneers head coach Devon Hand.
“After we watch the tape I think we’ll realize we can hang with these guys, we just need to stay up and avoid the big, big mistakes.”
Even when things appeared to be going in the Buccaneers favour, they found a way to scuttle the opportunity or drive. This was highlighted by a short drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Thanks to undisciplined play by the Gators and finally being able to start sustaining drives, the Bucs found themselves on the Calgary one-yard line, but rookie quarterback Jamie Fox threw an interception on a quick slant to the Gators’ David Slatcher to kill the drive.
The Buccaneers started Plante at quarterback but were unable to generate anything on offence with the strong armed pivot. The Red Deer line was unable to give him much time to find the open man, and when they did he was off target. He also absorbed some big hits along the way.
For the second week in a row, the Bucs replaced Plante with Fox in the second half, but this time it took some time for the results to show.
Fox started inside his own 10 yard line on each of his first three drives and was lucky to have only one of them end in a safety.
The Gators Ian Hewitt also kicked two field goals — 29 and 14 yards — in the quarter while Heather connected with Cassidy Doneff on a five-yard touchdown pass.
However, Fox did start to get some positive momentum going, it was just a matter of putting it all together for a score.
Trailing 50-0, Fox finally broke the goose egg at 12:03 of the fourth quarter, connecting with running back Junior Rivera on a 42 yard catch and run over the middle for a score.
But as the day went, they botched the extra point attempt, not once but twice, getting a second chance due to an offside penalty on the first attempt.
“With a team that’s as good as they are with the talent that they have, you can’t get a way with the mistakes we had early,” said Hand.
Fay was arguably the Buccaneers top player in the game, coming up with their only interception while flying all over the field making plays. That is despite a week of practice cut short my severe weather and a complicated offence to prepare for.
“It was tough, but our coaches out in a good game plan, we just didn’t execute it,” said Fay.
Offensively they were a mess, and Hand was non-committal about who will start at quarterback on Saturday in Grande Prairie against the Drillers.
“We need to get in there and look at the tape and chart the plays and see what reads they were making and then we’ll make a decision based on that,” said Hand. “Also it depends what Grand Prairie is showing us on defence.”
One player who did stand out was returner Landon Rosene out of Sylvan Lake, however he did not factor in the Bucs’ offensive strategy, though that may change.
“We like to have him as the specialty returner, but if he’s the guy making plays you got to look at what’s in the cupboard,” said Hand.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full with a traditionally tough Drillers team, especially up in Grande Prairie, but bouncing back will be of the upmost importance as they try to remain in contention in the short AFL season.
“We have to come here prepared to work and be focused and not let the little mental mistakes get to us and stay calm under pressure,” said Fay.