Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday.
As Sam Vesely turned 17-years-old, he returned an interception for a touchdown to seal a 35-14 win for the Lindsay Thurber Raiders over the Notre Dame Cougars in Central Alberta High School Football League action at Great Chief Park on Thursday.
It was my birthday present to me,” said Vesely with a laugh.
“I saw (Cougars quarterback Keegan MacDonald) leaning in, I could tell he was coming to the inside, so I guessed a little bit and I chanced it and I got it right. The quarterback throws to his spot and I was right there, he threw it right to me and I just ran.”
The score put the Raiders up 35-0, 2:45 into the third quarter and was their second major in 29 seconds to start the half.
Vesely had a solid all-round game, helping to limit a dangerous Notre Dame passing game, especially explosive wide receiver Jesse Kowalchuk.
“He’s always a sure-hand, picking up that football,” said Raiders head coach Dave Smith. “He’s one of the fastest kids in the league, and he was great — Kowalchuk down at the end there as well and Kowalchuk is a fast kid.”
Most importantly, the win all but locks up the top seed in the league for the Raiders, heading into playoffs in two weeks, at 4-1-0 — they have one game remaining against the winless Lacombe Rams on Oct. 17 in Lacombe — and snapped a frustrating losing streak against Notre Dame, their arch rivals.
“A lot of these guys, we’ve never won against Dame, this is our first win ever,” said Vesely. “It was real big for us as we move forward into provincials.”
The Cougars started out slow and Lindsay Thurber took full advantage. Quarterback Ben Pasiuk connected with Alastair Mahood for a 17 yard score on a crossing route at 6:17 of the opening quarter. On Notre Dame’s ensuing drive, Tony Morelli recovered a Johannes Smith fumble for the Raiders at the Lindsay Thurber 42-yard line. A few plays later and Bradley Pope punched it in on the ground from five yards out to put Thurber up 14-0.
At 6:20 the second quarter, after a punt return to the Notre Dame 10-yard line, Pasiuk hit Pope for a 15-yard touch down on a roll out to his left, to stretch the lead to three touchdowns.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cougars in the second half, despite starting with the ball. Despite getting the ball to start the third quarter, they went two-and-out on their first drive. However, a bad snap set the Raiders up on the Notre Dame 21. On the next play Pasiuk hit receiver Kolbi Street on another crossing patter and he found the end zone.
After the kickoff, Cougars quarterback Keegan MacDonald dropped back to pass, but it appeared to be tipped and Vesely took it back to stretch the Raiders’ lead to 35-0.
The Cougars scored two touchdowns in the final quarter-and-a-half, but the game was out of reach.
“Their big guys came to play,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “That’s a good team and we didn’t play really well.”
It was just an all-round terrific game for the Raiders.
Pasiuk finished 9-for-20 for 131 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for another 46 yards on five attempts. Earlier in the season, those yardage totals would have been reversed, but the Grade 11 quarterback is starting to develop the passing game.
“He’s becoming a more complete quarterback, and kudos to our receiving corps, they’re catching their balls and that’s opening things up,” said Dave Smith.
Pope also had a huge game on the ground, running for a game high 119 yards on eight touches, including a 51-yard scamper late in the second quarter.
“He’s gotten better and better these last two games, he’s running with authority now and the offensive line is getting him some space and that makes a big difference too,” said Smith.
The loss means Notre Dame will either finish second or third in the league and a match up with the Hunting Hills Lightning is guaranteed in the first round.
They will also play Hunting Hills in their final regular season game on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.
“It’s a nothing game,” said Castellan. “We want to get some positive momentum, but we also want to try and get some kids into the game as well.”
NOTES — MacDonald finished 10-for-24 for 135 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran in the final score of the game on a one-yard rollout at 2:08 of the fourth quarter and finished with 40 yards on eight rushes … Kowalchuk finished with six catches for 85 yards and one touch down and one interception of his own … Smith led the Cougars with 105 yards on 19 rushes … The Raiders took 13 penalties for 170 yards while the Cougars had eight for 75 yards.