Cougars within yards of provincials, but lose in close battle

Even though the Stettler Cougars didn't bring home the title, coach Mark Neitz said he couldn't have been happier with the game.

Even though the Stettler Cougars didn’t bring home the title from the Tier 3 Championship game in Lacombe Friday, Nov. 6, coach Mark Neitz said he couldn’t have been happier with the game, or more proud of his players.

The game took place in Lacombe, under the lights — this time without a snow storm, unlike a few years ago.

The game started strong for the Cougars, who scored on the first drive of the game. However, a few fumbles and miscues later, the team had fallen behind the hosts. However, the Cougars kept that points difference small and by half-time, the score was 24-14 for Lacombe.

“We outplayed them on offence, outplayed them on defence,” Neitz said. “But they had more plays on special teams and that made the difference in the end.”

The second half of the game saw Lacombe widen the gap, and with about five minutes left in the game, the score was 48-28 for Lacombe.

“I’m proud of the boys and their effort to compete for the full tilt,” Neitz said. He said they never gave up on evening the score, and with only eight seconds left on the clock, the Cougars brought the score to 48-44.

“There was no quitting,” he said. “We couldn’t convert an onside kick and Lacombe took a knee to finish the game.”

“Big plays were the theme of the night for Stettler,” Neitz said. “There were a number of 40-plus-yard plays, both through the air and on the ground. Defence played big, making some timely stops. Top-to-bottom, we were the better team. Sometimes the outcome doesn’t reflect that.”

He said that throughout the whole Cougars season, he’s been blessed with players who’ve been committed to the team, love the game, and carry on through injury and bad weather.

“We went through adversity with many injuries at key times,” Neitz said. “But we were able to come together at playoffs to make a strong push for the championship, hoping to carry on to provincials. It was a great year.”

He said he was looking forward to seeing many of his players “graduate” into high school, Wildcats, football next year, and continue to improve the skills they started to learn as Panthers and honed as Cougars.

“(The players) truly were like family on the field.”

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