Johannes Smith proved even the smallest and youngest players can make a big impact in the game of football.
The Grade 10 starting running back for the Notre Dame Cougars had 30 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns to upset arch rival Lindsay Thurber Raiders 22-20 at Great Chief Park in Central Alberta High School Football League action on Friday.
The five-foot-six, 170-pound Smith saved his biggest run of the night for the game’s biggest moment.
With Notre Dame staring down a second-and-17 with about four minutes to go, Smith, 16, broke a run for 20 yards to break into Lindsay Thurber territory and keep their drive alive and to kill two minutes off the clock.
“We had to keep our heads in the game and blocks were key,” he said. “I was looking forward to (starting) and hoping I would (play well).”
It’s not often teams will lean so heavily on a Grade 10 player, but Smith is proving he is deserving of the coach’s trust.
He opened the scoring at 2:25 of the second quarter on a four-yard plunge up the middle for a touchdown, and then made it 13-0 at 10:50 of second on a one-yard run up the left side — a bad snap botched the extra point.
“Johannes has a lot of grit,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “He’s got a lot of pride and he just doesn’t quit.”
Notre Dame quarterback Keegan MacDonald had a big day punting the ball as well, burying the Raiders deep in their own end on multiple occasions. On his first punt in the third quarter he backed LTCHS up to their own two-yard line and the Cougars forced Raiders kicker Owen Smith to surrender a safety — two points that wound up being the difference on the scoreboard.
Then, with under two minutes to go, MacDonald nailed a 43-yard punt out of bounds to give Thurber the ball on their own 13-yard line. They eventually turned the ball over on downs and Notre Dame was able to take three knees to end the game.
“Keegan’s a good athlete and good athletes make things happen,” said Castellan.
It was a frustrating game for the Raiders, who were coming off an emotional 8-7 win over the power house Hunting Hills Lightning in Week 1.
“We need to put a consistent game together, same as last week where we only showed up in the second half and eked out a one-point win,” said Raiders head coach Dave Smith. “We show up in the fourth quarter here and we lose by two. We have to show up for four quarters. We show up for four quarters and we’re hard to beat.”
With wet weather all day and a slick field, conditions made it tough to pass the ball and often to even snap the ball.
Both teams struggled with the exchange from the centre to the quarterback and punter. It was to the point where Notre Dame was forced to ditch their shotgun formations in the fourth quarter and coaches on both sides held their breath whenever the special teams units were on he field.
“Today we were a little bit spooked by the ball so we went away from the pitch and we went away from the throw,” said Dave Smith.
The slick football grounded the passing game almost completely. Raiders quarterback Ben Pasiuk finished 1-for-7 for seven yards, and a touchdown to Jonathan Goulet though he ran for 106 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns.
MacDonald finished 2-for-6 for 93 yards, his first completed pass came on a botched snap on a punt attempt as he scrambled to find Parker Dahl 13 yards down field — Dahl, however, fumbled the ball after the reception. His second completed pass went for 80-yards and a touchdown to Jesse Kowalchuk to put the Cougars up 22-14 at 10:13 of the third quarter.
The win leaves the Cougars as the only undefeated team left in the top tier of the league after two weeks while Lindsay Thurber drops to 1-1.
Despite this being a victory over their rivals, Notre Dame is not about to celebrate too much — yet.
“It’s not that we knocked them off, we’ve got to see them again,” said Castellan “This is just one step at a time, we’ve got to play them in another three weeks.”
There is a double-header at Great Chief Park on Thursday next week, the Raiders host the Lacombe Rams at 4:30 p.m. and then Hunting Hills hosts the Cougars at 7:30 p.m.