It’s no real surprise to see the Notre Dame Cougars and Lacombe Rams hooking up in the Central Alberta High School Football League championship final.
After all the two were the class of the league during the regular season with the Cougars posting an 8-0 record and the Rams at 7-1.
“It’s the way it should be,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan. “It’s the best two teams in the league hooking up to see who’s the best in the end.”
The Cougars beat the Rams 12-8 during the regular schedule, but Rams head coach Brian Ross says that could have went the other way.
“Any time you have a close game you tend to look back and see the opportunities missed,” said Ross. “We could have kicked a couple of field goals when we had the chance and it may have been different.
“The thing is we’re two close teams with similar styles. We both think run first and pass second.”
Both teams are solid in the offensive backfield with league rushing and scoring champion Dale MacDonald leading the Cougars and Skylar Sargeant anchoring the Rams.
What the Rams do have is a bit more depth in the backfield.
MacDonald finished with 1,658 yards and 16 touchdowns but Braden Fordyce was second on the team with only 127 yards on 18 carries. Lacombe finished with five backs with over 200 yards, led by Sargeant, who had 936 yards on 103 carries. Brady Olsen, who won the league rushing title in 2008, missed most of the season with a variety of injuries, but still had 335 yards on 35 carries. He’s still recovering from a broken thumb, but did return last week in a 14-3 win over the Hunting Hills Lightning in the semifinal.
“The thumb limits some of the things Brady can do, but it’s good to have him back and adds that much more depth to our backfield,” said Ross.
Dalen Kolybaba (268 yards), Tanner Green (237 yards) and Brandt Kolybaba (229 yards) can also carry the ball.
Castellan knows the Cougars have to stop the Rams running game, but isn’t worried about Olsen returning.
“He’s a good back, but only one guy can carry the ball at one time, so we can’t only worry about him,” he said.
While both teams will look to run first, they do have solid passing games.
Cole Stewart led the Rams with a 53.5 per cent pass completion for 774 yards with Dalen Kolybaba and Sargeant both grabbing 12 passes and Taylor Waldbauer 10.
On the other side, Devine connected on 49.4 per cent of his passes for 910 yards with Nathan Stearns hauling in 14 and Glen Ritchie and Connor McLachlan 12 each.
Both teams have solid defences and the Cougars will be even stronger than they were in a 34-29 win over the Sylvan Lake Lakers in the semifinals.
Castellan will have two of his starting linebackers back in the fold in Fordyce and Jordan Willms.
“We’re a lot healthier and most of the guys are over the ‘flu,” said Castellan.
“The key guys are all back, which should make a big difference.”
The Rams should also be healthy, although Stewart and Sargeant were both out part of the week with the ‘flu.
“We should be fine,” said Ross.
Not only is the game for the league championship, but the winner will represent the Central zone in the provincial Tier II playoffs and will host a quarter-final game Nov. 7.
The Cougars go into the game as the No. 1 ranked team in the province with the Rams listed at No. 4.
“I guess being ranked that high is good for our confidence, but it means nothing if we don’t win this week,” said Castellan.
Ross doesn’t worry about the rankings either.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but you see teams ranked below you, who could well be a lot higher,” he said.