The Hunting Hills Lightning were spitting mad heading into the Central Alberta High School Football League City Division championship game Saturday at Great Chief Park.
Later, they were all smiles after shocking the Lindsay Thurber Raiders 44-13 in a contest that was billed as basically a ‘pick-em’ with the Raiders — following two regular-season wins over Hunting Hills — perhaps even slight favourites.
“We were playing angry. We wanted this,” said Lightning quarterback Brett Barrett, who completed six of 12 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns. “They (Raiders) had a lot of confidence going into this and they were showing it on social media. We played with a lot of anger and it worked out for us.”
The Lightning scored on their first two possessions Saturday and were already well on their way to winning their third straight title.
Barrett hit Tanner Olstad with a 43-yard touchdown pass just 3:09 into the contest, and the quarterback dove into the end zone from one yard out for another major late in the first quarter that capped a long drive.
On their ensuing possession, the Raiders punted and then got a break when they recovered a fumble at the Hunting Hills 40-yard line, the ball bouncing off the back of a Lightning player. But they followed by turning it over on a failed third-and-four attempt.
The Raiders’ problems continued early in the second quarter than quarterback Ben Pasiuk fumbled at the Lindsay Thurber 48-yard stripe. The Thurber defence held and forced a punt, but the offence couldn’t move out from the shadows of the goalpost and conceded a safety to give Hunting Hills a 16-0 lead.
From there, the Raiders fumbled a punt return that was recovered by the Lightning and led to a four-yard scoring run by Hunting Hills running back Brandt Burzuk, and the eventual champs padded their lead with 1:11 left in the first half when Barrett tossed a 15-yard scoring strike to Olstad.
With Hunting Hills up 30-0 at halftime, it was basically game, set and match.
“Our coach (Kyle Sedgwick) didn’t have to say much before the game,” said Barrett. “We’d been waiting all week to get another chance at these guys. We were angry after the first two losses and we came out and played hard.
“Our defence held them to zero points in the first half and our offence was clicking. It was a process through the year to get it to where it was today. It was awesome. It feels really good.”
The Raiders blew a scoring chance early in the third quarter, as a fumble recovery at the Hunting Hills 45-yard line eventually got them to within one yard of the end zone. But a high snap forced the Raiders back to the 11 and they turned the ball over on a third-down gamble.
The Lightning promptly marched from their own four-yard line down the length of the field, capping the impressive charge with Barrett’s third touchdown pass of the game to Olstad — a 26-yard toss — that upped the count to 37-0 with 47 seconds remaining in the quarter.
“We picked a bad time to have one of those games,” said Lindsay Thurber head coach Dave Smith.
“We saved up all of our mistakes for one game. You can’t make that many mistakes in a championship game and expect to win.”
The Raiders finally got on the board when Brad Pope ran five yards to paydirt four minutes into the fourth quarter, then scored again when Pasiuk rushed 11 yards for a major. The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed.
Hunting Hills running back Jin Ahn closed out the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown run with 2:16 remaining in the game and the rout was complete.
“Honestly, I don’t know if we saw this coming,” said Sedgwick. “We definitely learned from the two losses to them this year. Defensively we just had to trust each other, which is something we didn’t do in our first two games against Thurber and because of that we played slow against them.
“They have some weapons. They have very good players and we were always afraid of getting caught on a big play. But we just trusted our system on defence today, and then on offence we put a pretty good game plan together and I don’t think we could have executed it much better in the first half.”
Burzuk was a difference-maker for the Lightning, rushing for 205 yards on 19 carries. Olstad caught three passes — all for touchdowns — for 72 yards.
Pasiuk completed eight of 21 passes for 97 yards and was the Raiders’ top rusher with 98 yards on 13 carries. Pope gained 97 yards on 14 trips.
“In the second half Thurber left nothing in the tank, and give them credit,” said Sedgwick. “They came out and played hard that whole second half and I think it was tough for our guys to match that, which is kind of human nature.
“But we came out and used emotion correctly instead of letting nerves take over. We relied on our experience. For our Grade 12s, this was their third league final they’ve played in, so they have that experience and know how to prepare for a big game and they used that today.”
The Raiders, meanwhile, struggled from the opening kickoff.
“We had trouble with getting guys on the same page, and there was just a lot of mental errors,” said Smith. “They (Lightning) played well, that’s the other thing. They moved the ball on us.
“I thought we rallied a bit in the second half, we started moving the ball. Overall, we had a good season and I’m proud of my kids.”
The Lightning and Raiders were also playing for the right to represent Central Alberta in tier 2 provincial play and Hunting Hills will visit Okotoks Foothills this Saturday.
Also on Saturday afternoon, the Notre Dame Cougars will host Calgary Henry Wise Wood in a provincial tier 1 quarter-final and the Sylvan Lake Lakers will entertain Cold Lake in a tier 3 quarter-final.
The Lakers captured the Central Alberta League Rural Division crown Saturday with a 34-0 thumping of the host Camrose Trojans.