The Lacombe Bantam Raiders season is over after a tough 49-22 loss to the Cardston Cougars during their first provincial game in Cardston last Saturday night.
According to Head Coach Fred Knip, the Raiders got off to a slow start in the game and just couldn’t recover.
“It was a combination of a perfect storm coming from the east and the west and the north and the south and it hit us,” Knip said.
The main factor in the loss, he said, was that the Raiders just couldn’t find their legs until late in the game, allowing Cardston to score seven touchdowns in three and a half quarters.
“We didn’t have any results. We couldn’t find our legs until late in the fourth quarter. Then we scored three touchdowns in eight minutes but it was too little too late.”
Knip said he believed the four and a half hour bus ride to Cardston early in the morning may have contributed to the Raider’s slow play.
“I think that was bothersome because we left (Lacombe) at eight in the morning and we got there at one. We did stop a couple of times to let the boys run around but they were lethargic when we got off the bus,” he said.
“I think they were out of their rhythm.”
Lacombe didn’t find their legs until late in the fourth quarter when they scored three touchdowns in eight minutes.
“Then boy, then we had their number,” Knip said.
But by that time Cardston had already scored seven touchdowns, a lead that Lacombe just couldn’t overcome.
The other big problem for the Raiders was that the Cougars had done their homework.
Cardston keyed on the Raiders’ two best players — quarterback Richard Jans and receiver Simon Gray — often double or triple-covering them and making it very hard for them to produce offensively.
”It didn’t matter whether we ran or threw the ball. We tried going up the middle, we tried end runs,” Knip said, adding that it became a game of attrition, one he thought they would have won if not for their slow start.
Lacombe woke up in the fourth though. Jans and Gray both had an excellent fourth quarter and were named Lacombe’s players of the game in spite of the increased coverage that they faced.
“There were some spectacular TSN highlight-reel plays that both players made. Simon Gray, in the fourth quarter, really turned things around for us with a one handed interception,” Knip said. He described the catch as an, “Odell Beckham Jr.-style jump” before Gray came down hard with the ball.
From that point on, it was all Raiders.
“If we had played the first three quarters the way we played the last five minutes, we would have blown them away, but the legs weren’t there.”
“We had an awesome, awesome season.”
The team built on the success that the Bantam football program has had in the past couple of seasons, including five league championships at one level or another and five provincial appearances in the last five years.
This season, the league named four Lacombe players to their League All-Star team. Those four players are Jans and Gray along with teammates Ryker Lunn and Oliver Hansen.
“I think we have a great program and I think it will just continue,” Knip said of Lacombe’s Bantam Football Program, adding he saw a lot of growth from his players throughout the season.
He pointed to one particular moment this season when some of the players asked to address the team.
“In essence, our football team was a family for many of these guys, so a couple of the captains said, ‘Look, this football team’s the only family we have. Let’s try to stay together and win a couple more games.’ And they did.
“For them it was being part of something that was bigger than just themselves. It was part of being a family, part of being a team, part of being a group. Moving forward, when I look back, I see a lot of incredible growth in some of these young men.”