In the 22-year history of the Central Alberta Buccaneers, one thing has remained elusive: an Alberta Football League title.
That history was all but washed away with a decisive victory on Saturday at Setters Place, as the Bucs knocked off the Edmonton Elite 47-17 to capture the franchise’s first championship.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Bucs quarterback Brandon Leyh.
“We were saying all week we’ve got a lot of guys who have been on this team for five, 10, even 15 years and they’ve never capitalized on this opportunity. This feels surreal. I’m so happy for those guys. We played a pretty complete game against a really good football team.”
The win capped off a magical run this season for the Bucs, as they went undefeated on the way to the title. It also helped erase the memories of missed opportunities in the senior provincial championship, with the Bucs finishing as runner-up in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The 2021 squad had been nearly two years in the making and after COVID-19 whipped out a chance at a title last year, there was more motivation than ever to finish the job.
“Our squad has been battling for this for the past decade. Just getting this accomplished is huge. It feels like a weight off our shoulders,” said wide receiver Axsivier Lawrence.
“There was a lot of motivation, a lot of heartbreak. We came really close in 2016 to winning and again in 2018 we lost and in 2019 we lost. A lot of the OGs, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to get it done and I’m glad we were able to do it.”
From kickoff until the final horn Saturday, the soldout hometown faithful carried the Bucs through to victory. Ten-year veteran safety Mark Fay credits the support from the community with helping get the Bucs to the promised land.
“There’s a lot of people who put a lot of work into this team, behind the scenes on the field and everything for 20-plus years really. It feels good to finally bring a championship to the city,” said Fay.
Early in the game, the Bucs gave the crowd plenty to cheer about after a score on the first drive of the game, a nearly perfect start for Leyh that led to a two-yard touchdown from Pascal Plante.
It’s time. @CABucs with a shot at an elusive Alberta Football League title. Stands are full. Five minutes to kickoff. Should be a fun night. Bucs are undefeated this season, closest game was against their opponent tonight, Edmonton Elite. pic.twitter.com/y7BTkPJDLb
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) August 29, 2021
Plante hit pay dirt again after an interception from Tylor Johannesson late in the quarter.
But Leyh fell out of sync with the offence for the rest of the first half and the Elite took advantage. Trailing 17-0, the visitors finally broke through late in the second quarter.
The Elite got another fortunate bounce with just a minute left in the half with the Bucs punting. A snap missed the punter and was pounced on by Edmonton for a touchdown that cut the Bucs lead to 17-14.
With less than five seconds left in the half, Bucs kicker Ideen Samadi hit a field goal and opened up a 20-14 lead.
Samadi hit another field goal early in the third quarter.
Still, the home side battled through push after push from the Elite, who nearly ended the Bucs undefeated season two weeks ago in Edmonton. Leyh said that victory came with a little bit of adversity and it played a key part when the game got close Saturday.
“Just stay calm. We had a crazy comeback against these guys a couple weeks ago, before that we didn’t really face any adversity this season. It was worrisome because I’ve been on this team in the past, where we think we’re all that and we beat a bunch of bad teams,” he said.
After a Fay interception with 6:40 to go and the Bucs up 23-17, Leyh hit Johannesson on a 60-yard touchdown strike that opened up a 33-17 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Blake O’Connor punched in a touchdown of his own late in the fourth and the Bucs added a pick six for good measure to round at the scoring with time winding down.
Fans stormed the field as the final horn sounded and tears came streaming down the faces of grown men, as their dreams of becoming champions were realized.
“We had half our team crying at the end, just shows how badly they wanted it, it was amazing,” said Leyh.