BY ZACHARY CORMIER
A plethora of touchdowns and a dominant run game propelled the Lacombe Bantam Raiders to a romping start to the 2016 minor football season.
Runningback Lubenson Pannenbecker led the way with three rushing touchdowns for the home team as the Raiders romped to a 50-0 shutout victory over the Notre Dame High School Junior Cougars at MEGlobal Athletic Park last Saturday morning.
“It was an excellent way to start the season. I’m just very excited with the prospects of the boys that we have out there,” said Raiders Head Coach Fred Knip after the game.
The team, which Knip said is mostly made up of first year players, were firing on all cylinders from the opening kickoff right through to the final whistle.
“For a lot of them, they were just trying to feel the water. You know, some of them said, ‘Don’t put me in coach I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I said it doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you’re doing. Just go out there and put your foot in the water,” Knip said.
And it seems that those first year players listened, as the Raiders offense were able to put up no fewer than seven touchdowns, all of them on the ground.
“We were able to get all of our backups in for about 40 per cent of the time and that was really encouraging. We have a lot more players — we have 42 players this year. We had 26 last year. So the challenge this year is can we get everybody to play? So we were able to get them in.”
It didn’t take very long for the Raiders to make their mark on the game, as after a couple of unsuccessful drives, the Lacombe offense worked the ball into the opposing red zone before Pannenbecker punched it into the end zone from six yards out for the team’s first score.
Four minutes later, Pannenbecker was at it again, this time punching in a handoff from nine yards out for the Raider’s second touchdown of the game.
Kicker Api Waqatabu kicked in the two point conversion to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Waqatabu and his special team’s unit were solid throughout the game, as they converted four of seven point after tries and forced the Notre Dame kick returners to fumble on more than one occasion and, failing that, forced them to the ground behind the 20 yard line to put their defense in a good position.
From there it was all Raiders, as the team’s running backs made short work of the Notre Dame defensive line and secondary. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Simmonns was solid under centre considering it was his first game playing at the quarterback position.
“He’s just trying to get his legs. He gets happy feet. He needs to trust his pocket, stay in the pocket and look off his receivers and see if he can find someone to throw to,” said Knip of the young snap taker, who had a rushing touchdown and several key completions in the contest.
Defensively, Knip said his players were up to the task of stopping Notre Dame’s offensive threats and the team’s depth chart players really stepped up when they got their time on the field.
“What we try to do here is if we’re up by 21 we try to put in all of our depth chart players, the second stringers and third stringers. Even on defense.”
The big win bodes well for the Raiders, who were eliminated in the second provincial game against Cardston last season.
“Last year we had a one player team or two player team. So everybody knew they were going to key on one of the players or two of the players,” Knip said, adding this year they have a lot more depth, so teams aren’t able to just try to shut down one player.
That fact, he said, makes him excited to see what the rest of the season holds.
“I’m not looking for Odell Beckham Juniors because they’re not here. What we do have here is kids that want to play football that want to be part of the family, that want to be part of the team.”
The Raiders are back in action this Saturday when they head to Ponoka to take on Ponoka Broncs. Kickoff