Cougars claw out championship

The Notre Dame Cougars always had a bend, but don’t break attitude when it comes to defence.

Notre Dame Cougar Tyler LaGrange breaks up a pass intended for Lacombe Ram Nathan Goode during the CAHSFL final on Saturday. Notre Dame won 29-14.

Cougars 29 Rams 14

The Notre Dame Cougars always had a bend, but don’t break attitude when it comes to defence.

It was that ability that just may have ultimately been the difference in the Cougars 29-14 victory over the Lacombe Rams in the Central Alberta High School Football League championship game at Great Chief Park Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars could have easily fell apart early in the contest as they fell behind 7-0 and did very little offensively for much of the first 20 minutes of the game.

“I thought we played very well defensively,” said Cougars head coach Gino Castellan.

“We gave up some yards, but as we say bend but don’t break and we did just that.”

The Cougars defence also created four turnovers — two interceptions to snuff out Lacombe drives and a pair of fumbles.

“We’ve always told the kids that when we create turnovers we have to capitalize on them and we eventually did just that,” said Castellan.

The third of the four turnovers — a fumble recovery on the Lacombe 48 yard line — seemed to kick-start the Notre Dame offence, especially their passing game.

Quarterback Kyle Devine missed on his first attempt following the recovery, but then hit Parker Aubin on a 24-yard strike and on the next play connected with Glen Ritchie on a 23-yard scoring play. Aaron Moritz kicked the convert to tie the game.

“I think that series gave the team some life,” said Devine. “It got our passing going as early on they were able to shut it down.”

The Cougars attempted an on-side kick following the touchdown, but it came up a bit short giving the ball to the Rams. However, two plays later another fumble gave the ball to the Cougars on their own 47. Two plays later Dale MacDonald broke off tackle and went 58 yards to put Notre Dame up for good. Moritz kicked his second of four converts and the Cougars led 14-7 at the break.

The Cougars ability to pass the ball and a slight change in their blocking systems at the half, changed the game completely in the Cougars favour in the third quarter.

“Their No. 6 (Brandt) Kolybaba is a hell of an athlete and he was in on a lot of tackles in that first half, so we made some adjustments at the half to get a blocker on him and it opened up some room for our running game,” explained Castellan.

The Cougars dominated the third quarter on both sides of the ball. They consistently marched the ball down field and scored twice on runs of nine and 10 yards by MacDonald and added a single by Moritz on a wide field goal. On the other hand the Rams managed to run just five plays in the quarter and one of those was a fake third-down punt, which came up well short.

“That third quarter completely changed the game in our favour,” agreed Castellan. “They didn’t have an answer to Dale or our passing game.”

It was a matter of running out the clock in the fourth quarter, although the Rams tried to make it interesting when Dalen Kolybaba picked up a fumble on his six and went 104 yards for the touchdown at 9:28. Cale Jacobs added his second convert.

Brady Olsen, on a two-yard run, scored the other Lacombe major at 8:12 of the second quarter.

MacDonald finished with 181 yards rushing on 25 carries while Aubin had 30 yards on five tries. Devine connected on eight of 16 passes, including eight of his last 11, for 182 yards. Connor McLachlan had three catches for 84 yards, Nathan Stearns two for 44 and Ritchie two for 30.

Olsen led the Rams with 134 yards rushing on 24 carries while Skylar Sargeant had 71 on six carries before leaving the game because of the flu.

Cole Stewart hit six of 11 passes for 62 yards for the Rams with Nathan Goode grabbing three for 31 yards.

The Cougars, who have a 10-0 record, have at least one more game as they host Edmonton’s McNally Saturday at Great Chief Park in a Tier II provincial quarter-final game.

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