Cougars 39 Lightning 15
LACOMBE – It’s been a while coming but the Notre Dame Cougars are finally back on top of the Central Alberta High School Football League.
The Cougars won their first title since 2009, taking the City Division crown with a convincing 39-15 victory over the four-time defending champion Hunting Hills Lightning before close to1,000 fans at MEGlobal Athletic Park Saturday afternoon.
“We prepared hard for this game … the kids wanted it badly,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “I’m proud of the kids, this was for them.
They worked hard to get back here, especially the Grade 12s who worked three hard years.”
The Cougars have been a step behind the Lightning the last eight years.
“It’s nice, a bit of revenge, but we haven’t been her since 2009, so it’s good for our program overall,” added Castellan.
The Cougars got on the board with a safety at 4:27 of the first quarter after an exchange of punts left the Lightning deep in their end. The Lightning managed just a seven yard punt with their first attempt while new Notre Dame kicker Triston Taylor pinned the Lightning deep with a 35-yard kick.
Turnovers then proved costly for the Lightning. The Cougars picked up a fumble on the Hunting Hills 37 and two plays later Johannes Smith went in from the 24 on what looked to be the final play of the first quarter. Isaac Colosimo kicked the convert. There was a penalty on the convert and they allowed one more play to the quarter. On the kickoff the Lightning once again fumbled and Aidan Vida picked up the loose ball and scored from the five. Colosimo once again converted making it 16-0.
“We knew if we got some points early it would start from there and it got the wheels rolling,” said Cougars veteran Jacob Plamondon. “We had some nerves early but those two touchdowns got rid of them.”
Plamondon proved to be the offensive story the rest of the way. He hauled in touchdown passes of 26 and 51 yards from Devin Desormeau in the second quarter and later added a third touchdown on an 11-yard run in the third quarter. Colosimo converted all three.
Third quarter lead
The Cougars also added another safety in the third quarter to take a 39-0 lead.
“We knew they were an aggressive team and knew they would give a bit more because of that and we were able to take advantage of that,” said Castellan, who inserted Plamondon into the offence late in the season.
“We ran into some injuries and they moved me in and it worked and I stayed there,” said Plamondon, who said it was nice to beat their rival.
“We’ve wanted this for a long time and we pulled together this week. We knew what we were capable of and just did it.
“It’s always good after three years of losing to them. This was good for the whole athletic program.”
Castellan used his bench in the final quarter and the Lightning got a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by Brandon Rees and Eric Thomson. Eder Arias kicked a convert and Thomson grabbed a Rees pass for a two-point convert.
Lightning head coach Kyle Sedgwick was naturally disappointed but gracious in defeat.
“I congratulate Notre Dame. I respect that program and they played well today and deserved it. They’re a veteran team and we shot ourselves in the foot on three straight plays and it’s 21 points. They have a team that knows how to capitalize on those mistakes.
“I told the team that when you’re on top everyone wants to knock you down. We were in this game seven straight years and won the last four. I’m very proud of our guys at how they battled to the end, which will lead us into the provincials.”
Both the Cougars and Lightning will host provincial games Saturday in Lacombe. The Lightning meets Robert Thirsk of Calgary in Tier II play and the Cougars face Harry Ainlay of Edmonton in Tier I.
“I believe we have a good chance to advance in the provincials,” said Sedgwick. “We went to the semifinals last year and feel we can make it again.”
Castellan believes the win will help them next Saturday.
“Whoever loses this game has a tougher time in the provincials,” he said. “It’s tougher to get motivated. It was good for us, but I also feel Hunting Hills has a good shot to go to the Tier II finals. Best to them.”
Smith led the Cougars with 93 yards rushing on 11 carries and Payton LaGrange had 45 on five carries. Sympho Nkuela had 46 yards on 12 carries for the Lightning.
In play Friday the Lacombe Rams came from behind to down the Lindsay Thurber Raiders 27-16 to take third place in the City Division.
A safety gave LTCHS a 2-0 first quarter lead with Kade Best grabbing a Sean Vandervlis pass for a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Wyatt Hawkes kicked the convert and it was 9-0 at the half.
Jonathan Ericson scored on a one-yard run and converted Bryce Woodrow’s major, which came on a four-yard run, to give Lacombe a 13-9 lead after three quarters.
However, it appeared as if the Raiders would pull out the win when Max Arnold intercepted a pass and went 17 yards for a touchdown at 7:12 of the fourth quarter, which Hawkes converted.
However, David Mueller scored on a four-yard run at 10:02 and Kyle Popp went in from the 10 at 11:49. Ericson converted both.
Woodrow had 54 yards rushing on eight carries and Mueller 51 on four. The Rams held the Raiders to 10 yards rushing.
However, Vandervlis connected on 23 of 36 passes – seven to Best for 90 yards, six to Colin Wilkinson for 87 yards and five to Max Abraham for 50 yards.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.