By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
It was a rollercoaster season starting with a short roster but including great victories against tough opponents, but the Stettler Wildcats closed out their 2017 campaign with w frustrating, heart-wrenching 28-22 loss to Cold Lake Nov. 17.
Due to field conditions in Stettler, the playoff game against Cold Lake was played in Lacombe in frosty conditions Friday evening.
Head coach Norb Baharally said the game started positively but a stalled offense saw Cold Lake slowly pull away.
“We had a great start to the game with a big defensive stop and takeaway during Cold Lake’s first possession,” said Baharally in an email Nov. 18.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to capitalize on that take away. We stopped Cold Lake again on their second possession and we kicked a field goal to go up 3-0. I think if we were able to score a major on that early takeaway, it might have been a different outcome to the game with a huge momentum swing in our favour.
“Cold Lake used our inability to not score majors on our first two possessions to their advantage and the momentum and confidence shifted. Our team was able to keep it close by half time with a score of 14-3 for Cold Lake.
“We scored on our second possession of the second half, missed the two point try and we were down 14-9 halfway into the third quarter. Momentum was on our side again but Cold Lake scored on their next two possessions and went up 28-9 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We were able to score early in the fourth quarter to bring the score to 28-15, missed two point convert again. Our defense held them during their next two possessions and we were able to score another major with about three minutes left in the game, kicked the single, to bring the score to 28-22.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to stop them in the last three minutes of the game to give our offence one more possession and they ran the clock out on us. During the course of the game, we did recover three on-side kick attempts but we were called on being offside all three times that we recovered the ball. “
Baharally said moving the game to Lacombe was the right decision. “If nothing else, playing the game at ME Global Athletic Park in Lacombe gave us better footing as opposed to playing on potentially a sheet of ice on our home field,” he said.
“I really did not like giving up the ‘home field advantage’, especially because this is what you play for all year by moving the game to Lacombe but it was the right decision in the best interest of the safety of the players.
The head coach said the Wildcat offense was frustratingly inconsistent. “The best way to describe our offence on Friday would be inconsistent,” he said. “At times during the game, we looked brilliant and unstoppable and at other times we looked very unorganized and questionable.
“At the times during the game when we needed the big plays to sustain drives, we just could not get it done. “
Baharally said the defense played in a similar fashion. “I would describe our defensive play in the same way as our offence, inconsistent,” said Baharally.
“Again, we had stretches on defense where we dominated the play and our opponent but then there were times when we allowed them to have big plays against us to score.
“Also, when we needed our defense to stop Cold Lake at the end of the game to give the offence the ball again, we just could not stop them and our defensive effort was lacking.”
What’s next for the Wildcats this year?
“We will have our equipment return on Monday after school,” said the head coach.
“Our Wildcat awards banquet will be on Thursday Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. in our cafeteria. Some of our players will now be starting into basketball season.
“Hopefully, our returning players will be starting an off-season weight-training program to get ready for next season.
“I would like to thank and congratulate our three veteran Wildcat players Eric Williams, Kameron Bainbridge and Derek Smyth on terrific high school careers. I would also like to thank our first year Grade 12 players, Ethan Tomkow, Kaden Satre and Blake Huziak for joining our team this year and for coming along with us on our 2017 season.
“We have a lot of returning players for next year and I predict that we will be back competing for a provincial and league championship again next year.”