LACOMBE — A punishing ground attack laid the foundation for a late field goal that vaulted the Central Alberta Buccaneers into the Alberta Football League semifinals.
With Saturday’s quarter-final versus the Edmonton Stallions tied at 14 and growing late, Bucs running backs Brett Lapointe and — to a lesser extent — Tanner Green ripped off impressive chunks of real estate that moved the ball down inside the Stallions’ 10-yard line. From there, Tylor Johanesson booted a 15-yard field goal with 43 seconds remaining and the Bucs held on for a 20-17 victory at MEGlobal Athletic Park and a semifinal date with the host Fort McMurray Monarchs this Saturday.
“I have to give credit to my O-linemen and our receivers for blocking down field for me,” said Lapointe. “We were just pushing the ball down their throats and they couldn’t do much about it.”
The Buccaneers’ late drive killed most of the final few minutes left on the clock and came after Stallions’ kicker Mike Millard had a 34-yard field-goal attempt partially blocked.
That the Stallions, who finished sixth during the regular season, were able to push the third-place Bucs to the limit was a testament to the quality of the Edmonton team, said Lapointe, who was the home club’s primary second-half ground weapon after Green carried most of the first-half mail.
“Kudos to them for coming out and giving us a good test,” said Lapointe.
“I mean, we were supposed to win this game, but they gave us a good run for our money. Now we just have to focus on Fort Mac.”
The visitors opened the scoring in the final minute of the opening quarter when Jordan Miller, on a third-and-goal, crashed over from one yard out for an unconverted touchdown.
The Buccaneers answered back early in the second frame, with Green scoring on a one-yard run and Johanesson adding the convert for a 7-6 Central Alberta lead.
The Bucs then forced a turnover on downs at their own 41-yard stripe and quarterback Jarrett Burzak hit Pascal Plante with a screen pass on the next play, a pass-and-run — with Plante breaking a pair of tackles en route to the end zone — that covered 64 yards for a touchdown.
Johanesson converted the major for a 14-6 Bucs lead, but the Stallions took advantage of a roughing call on quarterback Travis Tyler to score their second touchdown, Tyler hitting John Kot with a 34-yard scoring pass that was followed by a two-point convert reception by Miller.
Kot kicked a 33-yard field goal with 1:25 left in the half and the visitors went into the intermission with a 17-14 lead.
Johanesson capped a defensive third quarter with a late 28-yard field goal to pull the hosts even, setting the stage for a series of wild fourth-quarter events that preceded the winning boot.
The Buccaneers were tagged with another roughing penalty — on Stallions punter/kicker Kot — that moved the ball to the Central Alberta 47, but were saved when Jordan Willie picked off a Tyler pass. However, the visitors got the ball back when Justin Frederick recovered a Lapointe fumble at the Edmonton 53-yard line.
Kot followed with a spectacular 35-yard reception — with the ball deflecting out and then back into his hands — to set up a field goal that was partially blocked. The Stallions never recovered as the Bucs running game took over down the stretch and ultimately decided the outcome.
“It was really close, that’s playoff football right there,” said Lapointe. “Edmonton pushed us in the regular season too (a 20-14 win for the visiting Bucs June 27). They’ve improved a lot this year. I have to give them credit for that. They’ve added some talent and have really dedicated themselves to improving.”
The Bucs were 33-9 losers to the second-place Monarchs July 25 in Lacombe. Despite the one-sided score, Lapointe is confident the Bucs can prevail while battling a potent team on the road.
“We’re going to have to go in there with the same mentality that we did today and just not deny ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to face adversity no matter what, but we just have to go in there and know that we’re the better team and that we’re going to come out on top.”
The other semifinal will feature the first-place Calgary Gators versus the winner of Saturday’s other quarter-final between the St. Albert Stars and the visiting Grande Prairie Drillers.