There’s little surprise that the Lindsay Thurber Raiders are in the Central Alberta High School Football League final, but they certainly made it more interesting than it should have been.
The Raiders will try to end the Hunting Hills Lightning’s two-year reign as league champions and earn a tier II provincial berth after beating the Lacombe Rams 33-15 in Friday’s semifinal at Great Chief Park.
It took the first place Raiders three quarters to get going against the winless Rams, but put the game away on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 62-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ben Pasiuk.
All they cared about afterwards, however, was the chance to play their cross-town rivals for all the marbles.
“It’s what you want,” said Raiders head coach Dave Smith.
“Every football player wants to play for a championship and we’re lucky enough to be playing for one next week.”
The Raiders hold a three-game winning streak over the Lighting, going back to last season. Hunting Hills beat the Notre Dame Cougars 24-0 in the other semifinal on Thursday.
“The three wins mean nothing now that it’s playoffs, you lose and you go home,” said Pasiuk. “If there is a key at all, it’s our boys — our heart, our soul — we play to the whistle and we play hard, we play Raiders football.”
The Grade 11 signal caller has improved every game out this year and came up with two decisive plays. The first came early in the second quarter on second-and-10 from the Lindsay Thurber one-yard line. Pasiuk scrambled to the left while being chased in his own end zone and hit Gordie Walls for a 28-yard play along the sideline. The Raiders marched the field and Owen Smith eventually kicked a 23-yard field goal to put Thurber up 12-0.
Though it looked like a broken play, Pasiuk said it unfolded the way it was called.
“We drew it up on the sideline and it worked,” he said. “The boys made their blocks, the O-line played great.”
Then to start the fourth quarter, Pasiuk broke off his 62-yard run for a score, keeping the ball on the option and breaking a couple tackles before getting into the open field. The converted touchdown put Thurber up 26-8.
He finished the night with 93 yards rushing on six carries and was 6-for-8 passing for 100 yards and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Kolbi Street to open the scoring at 9:44 of the first quarter.
“You know exactly what you’re going to get with Ben every game,” said Dave Smith. “He’s making good decisions with the ball and making good decisions down field too.”
The Raiders made it 9-0 when Lacombe punter Jacob Hamilton surrendered a safety at 1:30 of the second quarter.
With Thurber up 12-0, the Rams got back into the game on the final play of the half as wide receiver Ben Arifin made an acrobatic, one-handed catch for a 21-yard touchdown from quarterback Zach Bailey, to make it 12-7.
Lacombe got the ball to start the second half, but fumbled at 2:21 with the Raiders’ Tarren Romaniw recovering it at the Rams 38-yard line. Just over two minutes later, running back Bryce Maki punched it in from six yards out to put LTCHS up 19-7.
A single on a missed 44-yard field goal by Lacombe’s Jared St. James made it 19-8 heading into the half.
Maki had a big second half for the Raiders, also scoring on a 10-yard run to put the Raiders up 33-15 and finished with 39 yards on six carries.
Meanwhile Raiders Grade 10 running back Randy Murdoch finished with 87 yards on 10 carries to lead Thurber running backs.
“(Murdoch) came out and had a whale of a game running the ball, we wanted to get the ball in some (other) kids hands,” said Smith.
Thurber’s defence played well for most of the night, though late in the game the Rams started to break a few big runs. Lacombe running back David Mueller finished with 141 yards on 10 runs. Bailey finished 7-for-23 for 97 yards and two touchdowns, also hooking up with Arifin for a 25-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Owen Smith also added a second fumble recovery for the LTCHS defence late in the final quarter.
“Our defence played well,” said Dave Smith. “We had some guys moved around and tried a few new things … we just had a lot of sound football players that finished the job.”
The Raiders know the league final on Nov. 1 against the Lightning will be a much tougher game.
“We’ve been playing our whole season looking forward to this game,” said Pasiuk. “We’ve come out and had two very close games with (Hunting Hills), they’re very well coached, but this is what you look forward to as a football player in this league and I think we’ll be ready for it.”