BY RYAN WELLICOME
The Central Alberta Buccaneers wrapped up the 2016 regular season undefeated with a superior performance over the fifth place Edmonton Raiders last Saturday. The Bucs routed the Raiders for a 77-8 victory, capping the ‘winningest’ season in their franchise’s history.
“To go undefeated for the first time in team history is exciting,” said Bucs Head Coach Devon Hand.
“But at the same time, the ultimate goal is the championship so we are trying to stay focused but it’d be crazy to ignore an 8-0 season.”
Hand said the team’s explosive offence bogged down the Raiders’ defence and gave the Bucs the victory Saturday.
Scoring began with a 68 yard punt return by Bucs wide receiver Josh Blanchard and then they proceeded to baffle the Raiders’ defence, taking a commanding lead of 63-0 at the half.
The Bucs starting quarterback Brandon Leyh threw with surgical precision, completing 18 of 18 attempts for a total of 447 yards and six touchdowns. Leyh’s stellar season saw him maintain a 70% completion rate, an average of 22.5 yards per completion and 15.6 yards per attempt; all AFL records.
In addition, Leyh threw zero interceptions all season – another record.
Also, 2,689 yards were thrown by Leyh over the course of the season for 37 touchdowns.
Bucs’ slotback Jamal Henry was all over the field Saturday, scoring four touchdowns and tying Bucs wide receiver Josh Blanchard for most TD’s in a single match.
Henry ran 1,079 yards on the season which puts him fifth all-time; merely 150 yards short of number one. He scored 13 touchdowns this season – second all-time.
On Saturday, the Bucs’ defence stuffed every attempt the Raiders’ offence made.
The Raiders’ receivers were tracked and rendered moot, throwing attempts were quashed and their quarterback was under constant pressure from the Bucs’ defensive line. Safety Steven Adu made two interceptions and made 50 return yards on the night while the Bucs’ defence forced three fumbles and made 37 tackles.
Special teams were on the ball Saturday, making long drives on returns to give the offence favourable starts.
Slotback Major Newman made two kick returns for a total of 65 yards while Blanchard scored on a 68 yard punt return.
The Bucs’ offence were not the only ones to set records over the season.
Defensive back and kicker Tylor Johannesson has the most interceptions and knock downs in AFL history along with a tie in most knock downs in a single season and best field goal percentage in a single season.
Linebacker Nick Leondakis tied for most fumble recoveries in a single season while defensive back Ryan Miller tied most forced fumbles. Hand said that the team’s successful season is, in part, due to the fact that every player had invested themselves.
“When we started this rebuild, we tried to shift the culture and explain to guys that in order for us to go all the way, we need to all buy in,” he said. “We’ve really been competitive in practice and that, of course has translated into games.”
Now that the regular season is wrapped up, the Bucs are looking forward to the 2016 AFL playoffs.
Hand stressed that the team must focus and dominate every quarter in order to meet their post season goals.
“We talk all the time about how we haven’t played a full game where we have executed for four quarters, that’s the challenge every week,” he said. “We are just trying to see how good we can get and challenging ourselves, understanding that it’s all for nothing if we don’t win it all.”
Hand also cited penalties as an issue, saying that the Bucs need to manage their infractions in order to come out on top.
“When the games get tighter and closer, those penalties become much more important,” he said. “More importantly, we need to understand that now that we have a bye in the first week by the time we get another team to play, all the deadwood will be gone. The games will be much more challenging going forward. There are no more easy games.”
The Bucs finished first seed and will, therefore, receive a bye past the quarter-finals through to the semi-finals and will be given the opportunity for <span class="n_