Wildcats open with mixed results

It was a wild opening day for the Stettler Wildcats.

Stettler quarterback Stephen Zuk

It was a wild opening day for the Stettler Wildcats.

The top-ranked Wildcats lived up to their billing on the scoreboard, at least, spanking the Lacombe Rams 17-0 last Thursday in Stettler. But it was a costly win, as the Wildcats played most of their Central Alberta High School Football League season-opener without two injured all-stars in quarterback Morgan Loshny and running back Braden (Bob) Nelson.

Both went down in the first half. The immediate prognosis was that Nelson’s absence would likely be short-term and that Loshny would probably be out for a longer period.

“Morgan, I think he’ll be out indefinitely for three to four weeks, at least, maybe a little bit longer,” Stettler coach Norbert Baharally reported Monday. “They’re talking about (damage to) ligaments in his knee.

“I’m real concerned about Morgan, just because it’s a knee. I’m not sure how bad it is, but even losing him for a week or two in a crucial part of the year, it won’t be easy to get through that without him.

“As far as Bob, I think he’s going to be day to day with his ankle. He may play (this week). If not (full-time), he may play limited.”

The Wildcats are on the road Thursday for a night game against the Wetaskiwin Sabres.

Under ideal weather conditions last Thursday, the Wildcats scored all of their points in the otherwise problematic first half, on touchdowns from Tyler Stewart and Parker Cassidy, converts from Elliott Mabbott and Clayton Steen, and the opening two points on a touchback.

“We struggled all game,” Baharally, the 25th-year coach, said Thursday. “I knew going into this game, we weren’t necessarily as deep as we’d like to be at this time of the year. It was quite evident. We got banged up early in the game in our backfield and by the second quarter, our starting backfield was out of the game.

“Nicholas Baharally came in and played well in the backfield, and the same with Parker Cassidy. And they’re also playing linebacker, starting for us there. It took a lot out of them. The heat here is taking its toll on our guys, too. They were feeling it a little bit. And maybe we aren’t in the best condition, going into the year.

“Today, at halftime, I told the guys, ‘That first half, basically, we survived. We did what we needed to do to keep a lead.’ Lots of players that aren’t starters were stepping in when they needed to, and it was good to see that they were at least ready to play and give us a chance to win, and they did.”

Grade 11 quarterback Stephen Zuk took over in Loshny’s absence and Grade 10 rookie Thomas Cassidy jumped on board after Nelson got hurt multiple times.

“Thomas Cassidy was put in a crucial position, as a ball-carrier in our backfield, with very little experience in high school and no game experience under his belt,” coach Baharally said. “He had some practice experience, but not a whole lot, because Braden is our No. 1 guy, so he gets all the reps.

“I was happy with what Thomas did. He secured the ball, he didn’t turn the ball over, he made some positive yards, and he made some big plays at times, so it was good to see him step in.

“And, he’s not new to the game, but I thought Stephen had a good game for us at quarterback.”

Zuk also gained experience early last season, after Loshny aggravated an injury in the season-opening game and missed the next couple of weeks of action.

With Loshny back on the sidelines, the Wildcats were making plans this week to back up Zuk at quarterback.

“At this point, we just hope and pray nothing more happens there,” Baharally said Monday. “But I think we might look at giving Clayton Steen some reps at quarterback, as well.”

The Wildcats ran into a string of opening-day casualties as they began defence of their 2011 provincial Tier 3 title.

“It was sloppy at times, and definitely if a weakness showed today, it was in our pass coverage and being able to shut the pass down,” Baharally said.

“We knew that (Lacombe quarterback) Austin Ericson would be coming out throwing the ball. He was our quarterback with (the midget Battle River) Shock (last spring), and we knew he could throw the ball. We were trying to prepare for that, but we’re just really inexperienced at the outside-coverage guys right now.”

END ZONE: The Wildcats maintained their No. 1 spot in this week’s Football Alberta rankings for Tier 3 high school teams. … In the newly aligned Central Alberta league, Stettler is in a pool with Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Rocky Mountain House and Ponoka. The Wildcats’ crossover opponents are Lacombe and Sylvan Lake. … The next home game for Stettler is Sept. 20 against Rocky Mountain House.

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