BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The Central Alberta Buccaneers took a big step towards making their presence in the Alberta Football League felt last Saturday, as they steamrolled the visiting Grande Prairie Drillers in their season opener at ME Global Athletic Park inLacombe.
Led by new starting quarterback Brandon Leyh and newly-acquired receiver Jamal Henry, the Bucs stormed to a 51-16victory over the Drillers in front of their home town crowd.
“A win’s good early. Grande Prairie’s always a tough team that plays physical and hits hard, so it’s a nice way to start the year for sure,” said Bucs’ Head Coach Devon Hand after the win.
The Bucs got the ball rolling early when, on the offense’s first drive of the game, Leyh hooked up with receiver Major Newman in the end zone for a quick six points.
Although the ensuing conversion kick was blocked, it was all Buccaneers from that point on, as the Bucs defense took to the field to do what they do best.
And boy did they deliver, at least in the first three quarters of the game as they stonewalled the Grande Prairie offense atnearly every turn, forcing the Drillers into two and out drives on more than one occasion and allowing the special teams and offense the opportunity to get back on the field and score more points.
Despite the defence’s shutdown performance early in the game, Hand noted he would like to see more consistency fromthem late into games, especially when the offense is rolling like they were on Saturday.
“It’s a little bit concerning defensively because normally we’re a defensively-minded team, so I think when the offense putup some points early, defensively we kind of eased back a little bit, kind of put it in cruise control.”
Fortunately, though, that lack of defensive consistency wouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, as Leyh andthe offense romped to a 40 point lead by the end of the first half.
“It was nice to see the offense get hot and score some points out of the gate early,” Hand said.
“Overall scoring points is always a positive thing.”
Much of that offense was generated by Leyh, who was making his first appearance in the pirate crew’s red and white.
The former Mount Allison University quarterback was dominant for the Bucs as he racked up 16 completions on 22 attempts for a staggering 335 yards and six passing touchdowns and one TD that he took into the house himself.
“We recruited him from Mount Allison. We were able to secure him work in the area and get a great guy that is going to put us over the top,” said Hand, adding the addition of a solid starting QB has been a welcome one for the team.
“In the past we had issues with that, the quarterback position and offense, so this is new to us. We had to make sure we had the right kind of guy to get us over the top and Brandon showed tonight that he can be that guy for sure.”
During the off season, the Bucs went through some major changes in order to sure up the offensive side of the ball. Those changes included adding Leyh at quarterback and a couple of receivers for him to throw to.
On such receiver, who had a very impressive debut on Saturday was Jamal Henry, who made some key catches early on and quickly became Leyh’s favourite target, racking up six catches for 164 yards and two TDs.
“It’s the same story, just different position. We’ve been known as a defensive team for so long and the rest of the league kind of sees us as that. So we put a lot of effort into focusing on the offense and recruiting players and getting the right guys that fit,” Hand said.
They’ll need that offensive support next week as they head north to Edmonton to face off against the Fort McMurray Monarchs in a rematch of last year’s semi-final, when the Monarchs knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs.
“Fort McMurray, obviously, is going to be playing supremely motivated. They have a deep team, they have an excellent coach and they’ll be ready to play us for sure,” Hand said.
That game goes on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Fuhr Field in Edmonton. The Bucs are back at home on June 11th when they host the St. Albert Stars. That game kicks off at 6 p.m. at ME Global Athletic Park in Lacombe.