Notre Dame Cougars becomes first tier I Red Deer team in 21 years to advance to regional finals

Payton LaGrange scores two touchdowns in 27-8 win over Harry Ainlay Titans

Cougars 27 Titans 8

LACOMBE — The Notre Dame Cougars went into the provincial high school North Regional semifinal football game against the Harry Ainlay Titans of Edmonton definitely as underdogs.

After all it’s been 21 years since a Central Alberta team advanced out of the regional semifinals.

The Cougars didn’t let that bother them as they turned in an outstanding two-way performance in defeating the fourth-ranked Titans 27-8 at MEGlobal Athletic Park Saturday afternoon.

“Our big-time players stepped it up,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “Beko (Wande) was fantastic, Jordan Muirhead had a great game, Payton (LaGrange) had a great game. Our O-line did a good job, especially in the second half when they started opening some holes and our running backs started to take over, which was nice to see.

“We prepared hard as we always do and the kids started to believe in themselves. It’s the first time in 21 years a Central Alberta team advances to the provincial semifinals, which is a great accomplishment.”

Although the score was 6-2 at the half, the Cougars offensive and defensive lines were solid all game.

In fact, on their second possession the Cougars marched 72 yards on 11 plays to score the first touchdown, when LaGrange went in from the one at 8:38.

The convert was blocked and the Titans got on the board with a safety at 5:30 of the second quarter.

The game remained tight until late in the third quarter when Justin Fedun darted 13 yards for a touchdown, which Isaac Colosimo converted.

LaGrange scored again on a one-yard plunge at 8:25 of the fourth quarter and quarterback Devin Desormeau hit Reiss Flunder on a 15 yard touchdown strike at 10:29. Colosimo converted both.

The Titans completed the scoring at 11:38 on a 15 yard run by Dylan Kerr.

The Titans, behind quarterback Cody Olson, moved the ball in the second half, but couldn’t find a way to finish drives. In fact the Cougars picked off a pair of passes in the fourth quarter, both of which led to touchdowns. Wande intercepted his second pass prior to LaGrange’s second major, and Alex Groenen picked off a deflected pass leading to Flunder’s score.

“They were a good team, but we had watched a lot of film and knew our assignments and everyone did their jobs,” said LaGrange, who also was strong in the defensive backfield.

“We forced them into second and long, which as our strategy. You can thank the coaches for putting us in a position to win. They put in a lot of hours watching film and preparing a game plan.”

LaGrange carried the ball 12 times for 32 yards while Johannes Smith had 72 yards on 14 carries and Fedun 51 on 10 tries. Desormeau connected on six of nine passes for 80 yards.

“Johannes and Justin are dynamic runners and Payton adds another dimension to our offence that other teams have to be aware of” said Castellan. “I also thought Devin played well. I was proud of him as he takes a lot of heat from us.”

What impressed Castellan as much as anything was his defensive play against a fast Harry Ainlay squad.

“They have tremendous team speed, but maybe we do as well. We nullified that. Our defence had a great game.”

The Cougars turned in the impressive performance without one of their leading defenders and offensive threats — Jacob Plamondon, who was out with a minor concussion, He’s expected back against the top-ranked Bev Facey Falcons on Saturday. The Cougars will once again be underdogs.

“They still have to show up and play … we’ll see what happens,” said Castellan.

The Cougars meet the Bev Facey Falcons Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton. Facey advanced with a 38-6 win over the Bellerose Bulldogs.

• In other provincial play, the Sylvan Lake Lakers lost 24-16 to the Holy Rosary Raiders in Tier III North semifinal action while the Stettler Wildcats downed the top-ranked Ardrossan Bisons 36-19 in the Tier IV North semifinals.

The Wildcats face the host Sexsmith Sabres, who defeated the St. Paul Lions 37-13.

In 6-man action, the second-ranked Buck Mountain Mustangs downed the Sedgewick Rams 72-40 and the fourth-ranked Rimbey Spartans stopped the Holy Redeemer Rebels 56-24. The two meet Saturday at 1 p.m. in Lacombe.

In bantam Tier II semifinal play the Lacombe Raiders lost 34-25 to the Edmonton Mustangs.

Lebeson Pannebecker had two touchdowns for Lacombe with Josh Harper and Justin Penny adding one each. Tanner Park had a convert.

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