The Red Deer Buccaneers saw their playoff hopes slip away late in their Alberta Football League encounter with the Calgary Wolfpack Saturday at Great Chief Park, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
The Bucs turned in their best offensive performance of the season, but the Wolfpack broke a 49-49 tie with 55.5 seconds remaining in the game to pull out a 56-49 victory.
The loss left the Bucs with a 1-6-1 record and one point back of the Calgary Gators, who grabbed the sixth and final playoff spot.
But while there was disappointment, there were more smiles than frowns.
“What a way to go out, scoring 49 against the Wolfpack,” said Bucs quarterback Josh Achtemichuk.
The Buccaneers and Wolfpack went back and forth all evening in the highly entertaining affair with Red Deer tying the game at 49-49 with 3:37 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 31-yard pass from Achtemichuk to Randy Lawrence. It was the third time the pair hooked up to find the end zone. Jay Pike kicked his seventh convert and all the Bucs needed was one defensive stand.
However, the Wolfpack, behind outstanding quarterback Darryl Leason, marched the length of the field and took the lead for good when running back Sean Ahronson went in from the one.
The Bucs were able to move the ball, but simply ran out of time.
Achtemichuk, behind a strong offensive line, was the story of the game as he connected on 24 of 33 passes for 541 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 27 yards and one major.
“We watched game film over and over and over again and picked apart what they gave us last time and it worked perfectly,” said Achtemichuk. “And it would have kept working, we just needed more time.”
Kenton Poelzer grabbed seven passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns and rushed nine times for 43 yards. Josh Sorensen had six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Bucs head coach Dave Hanni agreed.
“I’m so happy and proud of these guys,” he said. “They (Wolfpack) were trash talking all week on their website and in the media and saying we wouldn’t get 50 yards rushing and 100 yards passing, but we torched them tonight. What we didn’t want to do was get into a shoot out, a heavyweight fight, but that’s the way it went and they were smiling at the end, because they knew they got away with one.”
But overall the Bucs couldn’t handle Leason, who tossed five touchdowns, a two-point convert and ran in for a major. Former Ottawa Rough Rider Tom Dixon had five converts and two field goals.
Leason threw a pair of touchdowns to Scott Sargent and one each to Ahronson, Hughes Audet and Mike Leason.
“We knew coming in they had their backs to the wall and would be ready for us,” said Darryl Leason. “Josh played a heck-of-a game for them and he gave their receivers a chance to make plays and they did just that.
“That’s a good up and coming team and they’ll be that much better next year. They’ll get more wins and be in the playoffs. Unfortunately they’re not there this year because they’d give some teams problems.
“We came in today a bit banged up but that’s no excuse,” added Leason. “They made the plays and if not for that fumble (on the Calgary one) they may have tied this.”
Achtemichuk, who fumbled after a 10-yard run, felt he may have been down before the fumble.
“Who knows, but we got the ball back and scored right away anyway, so that didn’t determine the outcome,” he said.
Experience played a big role in deciding the game as the Wolfpack are coming off of winning the national championship last year.
“You could see their experience. They made the plays when they had to and have an outstanding quarterback who puts the ball where it has to be,” said Hanni.
“Next year we’ll have more of that. This year we had 25 rookies with 12 to 15 of them starting. And our rookies mainly come out of high school. We may have six guys who played beyond high school while we’re up against ex-pros and a lot of guys out of university and junior.
“If we keep this team together next year we’ll definitely move up.”