The Hunting Hills Lightning had their own special shock treatment this season — an offence that excelled both on the ground and through the air.
However, with Great Chief Park covered with a heavy blanket of snow Saturday afternoon, the Lightning’s attack was somewhat limited in their Central Alberta High School Football League championship-game clash with the Sylvan Lake Lakers.
As it turned out, the Hunting Hills ground game paved the way to a 22-7 victory as the Lightning captured their third league title in the past four years.
“We couldn’t really throw the ball in these conditions. We were a pretty balanced offence this year so that took a lot of our weapons away,” said Lightning head coach Kyle Sedgwick.
To make matters more intense for the Lightning, running back Matt Russell was forced out of the game in the first half with a shoulder injury. Russell, to that point, had amassed 90 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown two minutes into the contest on a 35-yard run.
With Russell on the sidelines, Jin Ahn stepped up rushed for 158 yards on 17 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown scamper with 6:30 remaining in the fourth quarter that pretty much sealed the deal.
“Matt is a great player for us. We needed a ball carrier so we put it in Jin’s hands,” said Sedgwick. “We were just trying to get some first downs and finally got off the ball and got it to the right guys and busted one. That was huge in this weather.”
The Lightning led 16-0 late in the first half — courtesy of Russell’s major and field goals of 32, 32 and 24 yards by Skylar Roth — when the Lakers finally scored, Landon Rosene zipping 50 yards up the middle for a touchdown that was converted by Aiden Smaill.
But that was it for the visitors, who nevertheless kept matters interesting until Ahn’s late touchdown.
Building a 16-point lead in the first half was huge for the Lightning, considering the field conditions. “Even though we were settling for field goals, I was OK with that,” said Sedgwick. “Our defence played outstanding. We knew they (Lakers) were going to run. They have great runners and they busted one on us late in the first half. But it turned out that the early points were enough.
“Last week was a tough game and we found a way (in a 31-21 semifinal win over Lacombe), and we found a way this week. I’m proud of the guys, for sure.”
Lakers head coach Jeremy Braitenback liked his team’s resolve in the second half, however . . .
“We made a couple of mistakes early in the game, got down and never recovered,” he said. “We started better in the second half and it looked like we had a glimmer, but they (Lightning) stepped up and shut the door, Give credit to Hunting because they were the better team today.
“We didn’t convert a key third down late in the game, they got the ball and scored the next play and that was it.”
Rosene was the Lakers’ major weapon, running for 172 yards on 19 trips. Lakers quarterback Skylar Selk completed six of 15 passes for 35 yards, with Trent Kondor catching two balls for 13 yards.
Lightning quarterback Jarrett Burzuk was good on three of nine pass attempts for six yards. Burzuk was also intercepted once, while Selk tossed a pair of picks.
“I give our guys credit, they never quit,” said Braitenback. “I’m really proud of them just to get this far. We played Hunting Hills the first game of the season and lost 40-7, we were never in that one.
“Hunting showed up today thinking this was going to be a game and we gave them one.”
The Lightning move on to host the top-ranked Foothills Falcons of Okotoks in a south regional tier 2 semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Great Chief Park.
Whether Russell will be available for the game remains to be seen.
“We don’t know the extent of the injury,” said Sedgwick. “He just didn’t have the strength in the shoulder to come back today. He wanted to but we couldn’t risk it. We’ll see how it goes this week.”
The Lakers’ season didn’t end with Saturday’s setback. Sylvan Lake will take on host St. Paul in a tier 3 provincial quarter-final Saturday.
• The visiting Lacombe Rams rolled up 295 rushing yards and 332 yards of total offence en route to a 17-10 win over the Rocky Mountain House Rebels in the league third-place game Saturday.
The Rams, the benefactors of a pair of late officiating calls made after a video review and lengthy conference and an even later clipping call, got the winning points from Judah Knip on a running touchdown with 22 seconds remaining.
Rocky’s Nolan Guilfoyle returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but the score was called back due to a clipping call at the five-yard line. The penalty moved the ball back to Lacombe’s 25-yard stripe and the Rebels ran two plays and were finally stopped three yards short of the goal line on the game’s final play.