BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It was another big weekend for the Central Alberta Buccaneers football team, who moved one step closer to clinching first place in the Alberta Football League on Saturday when they downed the reigning AFL champion Calgary Gators 43-32.
“It’s about as big as it gets regular season-wise,” said CA Bucs Head Coach Devon Hand of the win.
The game, which took place in Calgary, was a significant one for the Bucs. A win would mean they would clinch home field advantage for the fast-approaching playoffs. A loss would likely see the only remaining undefeated team in the AFL drop to third place, losing the first-round bye and possibly home field advantage in playoffs.
“Lots of stakes against a really good team,” Hand said.
The Pirate Crew got off to a great start in the important contest. The defense was able to hold off the Gators’ tandem-quarterback team of Jordan Heather and Darryl Leason. Numerous Gator passes were knocked down, incomplete, and even picked off by the Buccaneer secondary. The Gators’ run game was eaten up as well.
“We started off with a high level of energy. Our defense was challenging really well and we responded well to the challenge. We were able to limit the field position early with the Gators’ quarterbacks. They have two of the best quarterbacks in the league, so we were able to slow them down and that kind of put us on top,” Hand said.
The Bucs’ offense was stellar as well throughout the game. Star quarterback Brandon Leyh continued to impress with his accuracy, connecting with his receivers time and again to give the Calgary defense fits. By the end of the first half the Bucs held a commanding 27-7 lead.
For Hand, seeing his offense start to light things up this season was a welcome change from previous seasons.
“In the past, that’s kind of been the issue. Just seeing in the past little bit that we were struggling to put points on the board, and that was really what was keeping us from competing with the elite teams,” he said, noting that to try to rectify the situation, the team went out and recruited players like Leyh, wide receiver Jamal Henry and offensive linemen Michael Antoine and Pierre Konan.
“We were just able to add some pieces and it’s really balanced us out and legitimized us. The offense that’s really come together as of late, they’ve been leading the way. I’m thrilled with Brandon’s play and we’re just getting momentum.”
The Bucs continued to roll until the fourth quarter when Leyh went down with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.
“At the end of the game, Brandon had to come out, so that was concerning. As a result, we kind of lost some energy. We kind of took our foot off the pedal so to speak,” Hand said.
Hand refused comment on whether the quarterback will be in the lineup for Saturday’s game.
After losing their starting QB, the Bucs’ offense slowed to a halt, which allowed the Gators to make a final push to try to get back into the game.
Despite scoring a couple of quick touchdowns and closing the gap a little, the defending champs weren’t able to overcome the new juggernaut in the AFL, as the Pirates hung on to win 43-32.
“We did let them get back into it more than I would have liked, so I think there’s lessons to be learned there,” said Hand, adding that the group won’t be taking anything for granted as they head into the final two games of the regular season.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead. I want to maintain that undefeated record at home so that we can continue to have that home field advantage. If we lose at any point within these next two games, we still fall down to second.”
The Bucs will be back in action this Saturday when they host the Airdrie Irish (1-6) for the annual Pink Game, in which both teams charge their players and fans to raise pledges and dress in pink for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The team that raises the most pledges earns the Pink Game title and holds it until the following year.
Kickoff on that game is at 6 p.m. at ME Global Athletic Park in Lacombe.
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