The Lacombe Raiders are one game away from a provincial championship title.
After winning their league championship final against the Hunting Hills Lightning earlier this month, the Raiders were in Edmonton on Nov. 8th to take on the Mustangs, defeating them 33-20.
Coach Darren Gagnon said it was another hard fought battle for the Raiders, where they competed against the elements as well as the other team, but the team dug deep and found what they needed to come out on top.
“Our kids did what they had to do in the end,” said Gagnon.
Edmonton opened scoring for the game on the very first play.
Despite their early disadvantage, the Raiders slowly but steadily marched back down the field to tie things back up, said Gagnon. Things continued to be a little back-and-forth for the first half, with it ending tied at 14.
In the second half, Edmonton once again opened scoring, getting an edge on the Raiders.
Gagnon said the score remained 20-14 in favour of the Mustangs until late in the fourth quarter when the raiders were able to pull ahead, winning the game 33-20.
As has been said before, what the Raiders lack in talent they make up for in heart.
Gagnon said, just like as in the league final, it was the team’s passion that won them the game.
“The kids just didn’t give up, they kept working hard,” said Gagnon. “It’s the same as they’ve done all year. They fought through the weather and they fought through the cold and the snow and the opponents.”
Snowy conditions played a bit of a factor in the game.
Not only were the Raiders dealing with a snow-covered field, their passing game was also affected. Gagnon said they were able to work around this by utilizing more short-passing plays and handoffs rather than long passing plays.
Gagnon said the Mustangs put up a good fight against the Raiders, but the Raiders’ prowess may have come as a bit of a shock to the Edmonton team.
“I think we surprised them, how tough we were,” said Gagnon.
Winning the provincial semi-final had special meaning for the Raiders this past weekend, as they were on the field without one of their coaches.
On the day before the game, Coach Wayne Haarstad was rushed to the hospital with heart problems and is still in hospital recovering at press time.
Gagnon said the loss of one coach meant the rest of the coaching staff, as well as the players, needed to be more focused.
He added that Haarstad is not expected to be at the provincial final on Saturday either. Hopefully, playing for their missing coach will inspire the Raiders even further, said Gagnon.
“The kids all love Wayne,” said Gagnon. “I’m sure they’d like to make him proud.”
Certainly, regardless of the outcome this weekend, Gagnon said both he and Haarstad are already incredibly proud of the team.
“They’ve been incredible,” said Gagnon.
“Their desire and their passion and the heart that they have has allowed them to win a few games where they were probably up against opponents with more skill and talent. They’ll definitely have to do that this weekend. This team that we’re playing this weekend is outstanding – they’re superior to any team that we have played so far.”
Now the Raiders advance to play the Calgary Cowboys (Grey) in the provincial final.
“They’re really, really good,” said Gagnon.
“I think they have only lost one game all year, the Calgary team. It will be another new level versus what we played in Edmonton.”
Last year’s Raiders team also made it to the provincial final, but lost the championship match. Gagnon said it will be an incredibly tough battle if this year’s Raiders (so far undefeated) hope to improve that record, but he is hopeful the team can continue to surprise everyone.