While the Stettler Cougars Bantam coach Ernie Shirreff knew the first games of the season were going to be rough for his mostly first-year football team, he wasn’t expecting the rest of the season to be so rough.
“We didn’t expect what happened in the past two weeks,” he said after the conclusion of a disappointing 42-6 loss to the Sylvan Lake Lions. “We got run over.”
Though the team enjoyed a beautiful sunny day and local hometown support at the Saturday, Oct. 4 home game, the team wasn’t able to put the skills learned at practice into effective use against the visiting Lions.
Especially frustrating for Shirreff was the game’s announcer, who called the players on his team “green pylons.”
“You don’t do that to your home team,” Shirreff said. “These aren’t adults. They’re kids. That really hurts.”
Though Shirreff said he didn’t know if the hometown heckling from the announcer harmed morale, he knew the boys weren’t playing as well as they’ve shown they can in practices.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards,” he said, but then noted, “The boys still come to practice loving the game, so that’s good.”
Practices are devoted to skill teaching, Shirreff said, and he admitted the Cougars’ rough season is in part due to the team being so young.
“We’ve not got a lot of depth this year,” he said. “We lost a lot of our older players and have a lot of smaller, first year players. It’s the difference between Grade 6 and Grade 7 and Grade 8 players.”
Without the size, or the speed, of the other teams, it’s easier for the bigger teams to just push the Cougars over.
“Next year will be better,” Shirreff said optimistically. “We just keep plugging along.”
The Cougars won’t play again until playoffs start on Oct. 25, and Shirreff doesn’t think there will be any more home games this season unless there’s a major upset in the other games leading up to the playoffs.
“The next two weeks will be another training camp,” he said, adding that it will give the team a chance to nurse away some injuries earned in the past games.
Though it’s been a brutal season – one of the roughest that Shirreff said he could remember – the players still come to each game loving to play, which isn’t easy when “you get your (butt) handed to you over and over.”