Drillers 35 Buccaneers 21
Blowing a 14-point lead left the Red Deer Buccaneers in a state of discouragement.
Conversely, the fact that they were able to build a two-touchdown margin over one of the Alberta Football League’s premier teams Saturday at Great Chief Park was encouraging.
“I was very impressed with our offence in the first half. We have a brand-new offence and this was our first game running with that against a veteran defence,” said Buccaneers co-head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Sedgwick, following his team’s 35-21 loss to the Grande Prairie Drillers in Red Deer’s season-opener before close to 300 fans.
The Bucs were first on the board when running back Kenton Poelzer scored on a 27-yard scamper in the first quarter, and were up 21-7 in the second quarter courtesy of 12- and seven-yard touchdown runs by quarterback Josh Achtemichuk and running back Ian Keetch.
But that was it for the home side, as the visitors, who got an earlier major from one yard out from quarterback Nathan Aldred, scored a safety and a touchdown — a 24-yard run by Symon Pfau — before the intermission and cut Red Deer’s lead to 21-16.
The loss of Poelzer to a second-quarter injury was huge, as the Bucs couldn’t mount any type of sustained attack over the final 30 minutes.
“We played well in the first half. We ran into a couple of injuries and had to move some guys around, and that hurt us a bit,” said Sedgwick. “In the second half we just couldn’t get a rhythm. If we could have ended the game after the first half, that would have been great. But it’s a 60-minute game.”
Sedgwick and fellow co-head coach and defensive coordinator Tim Burris ran a two-month ‘boot camp’ for the players leading up to Saturday’s season-opener and Sedgwick insisted physical conditioning — or a lack thereof — did not play a role in the outcome.
“We fell off a bit there. It had nothing to do with conditioning, we just couldn’t get into a rhythm in the second half,” he said. “Winning is not only about beating a team, it’s also about learning how to win and how to finish games, and we didn’t do that today.”
The Drillers grabbed a permanent lead in the third quarter when Brandon Smith hauled in a seven-yard scoring pass from Aldred, and upped the count to 26-21 shortly after on a 24-yard field goal from Pfau.
The Drillers added a safety in the final quarter and sealed the deal on Mitchell Fulmek’s five-yard touchdown run with 61 seconds remaining in the game.
Poelzer was the Bucs’ top runner with 59 yard on five carries despite playing less than 30 minutes.
“We don’t know the severity of the injury, but he didn’t come back so it’s not a little bump,” said Sedgwick. “It had to be severe to keep him out because he’s definitely a competitor. I think we could have got into a rhythm if Kenton had stayed in the game, but such is the sport. Injuries happen and we had enough guys who have taken reps there (running back).
“We have a bye week now so he has two weeks to get ready for the next game. We’ll assess it at practice next week and see how it goes, but he’s definitely key to our offence.”
Achtemichuk completed nine of 18 passes for 154 yards. Josh Sorensen was the Bucs’ top receiver with six catches for 124 yards.
Defensively, rookie Adam Staniowski had four solo and five assisted tackles, while Dave Henderson had the lone sack for the Buccaneers.
Despite the setback, Sedgwick said the Bucs can build off of Saturday’s performance.
“Their (Drillers’) defence, their front seven especially, is very active and athletic and they’ve played together for a long time,” said Sedgwick.
“For us to come out and jump on them right away was good. We just have to learn how to finish. That’s something we’ve been preaching and we’re going to continue to preach.
“This was a good start. The result is not what we wanted, but it was a good start for the team.”
The Bucs return to action June 19 at Great Chief Park versus the expansion Lancaster Legion from CFB Edmonton.