CAMROSE — The William E. Hay Wildcats of Stettler went to work early Thursday en route to a 34-14 victory over the host Camrose Trojans in the Central Alberta High School Football League season-opener for both teams.
Grade 11 running back Braden Nelson opened each half with a touchdown to power the Wildcats, who led 20-6 at the intermission.
“Overall, I was pleased,” said Stettler coach Norbert Baharally. “Obviously, when you start your year with a win, I was happy with that, especially now that they’ve changed the format of our playoffs. Only the top two teams end up playing for the league championship, so it makes a big difference if you start with a loss, or if you open with a win.”
“There’s some things we have to work on, definitely, but overall, the boys played well.”
Playing their first game five days before the beginning of the new school year, the Wildcats scored on their opening drive and never looked back on a sunny afternoon in Camrose.
Drew Hunt, Matt Hataley and quarterback Morgan Loshny each added one touchdown and kicker Elliott Mabbott made good on four converts.
“We had a strong start, there’s no doubt,” Baharally said. “I was impressed with our offence — the way we moved the ball. It’s unfortunate sometimes when we’re playing, guys are going down and getting hurt, and then we have to go to (No.) 2. The second and third guys going in, sometimes they don’t know all the plays properly.”
“So it’s a situation you don’t like to do as a coach, but sometimes your hands are tied and you can’t do anything else but, and you hope for the best.”
The best performance in the season-opener came from Nelson, a Grade 11 trooper who kicked off the second half with a long touchdown run but sat out the fourth quarter with leg cramps.
“Definitely, Braden Nelson had a strong game for us, running the ball,” Baharally said. “He made some really nice runs.”
“But again, he got hurt a couple of times — down and back up — a tough kid. Drew Hunt played his heart out. He filled in for Braden, going in the backfield.”
“Our offensive line played well, because we’ve got a fairly inexperienced offensive line, and I thought it did a good job opening up the holes and giving us some protection when we did decided to throw the ball.”
Nelson was the league rookie of the year last season, and his reputation precedes him.
“People around the league know Braden from bantam football and things like that, too,” Baharally said. “They respect what he can do and they know they have to try and stop him.”
“In the fourth quarter, we just kept him out (for precautionary reasons) and gave the young guys some reps in the position.”
The Wildcats took the long weekend off, and when they resumed practising Monday night, Nelson was on board.
“He was dressed and he practised, just taking it easy,” Baharally said. “Matt Hataley, one of our running backs, was out, though. He’s day to day. We’re not 100 per cent sure with him.”
“But most of (the injured players) are day to day right now, with the exception of maybe Morgan (Loshny).”
The Wildcats learned this weekend that they might have to make do, at least temporarily, without Loshny, the team’s starting quarterback. He’s nursing a hip injury and is scheduled for an MRI exam this Thursday, the same day the Wildcats host the H.J. Cody Lakers of Sylvan Lake at 4:30 p.m.
In his absence, the Wildcats are handing the ball to Grade 10 rookie Stephen Zuk, with Grade 11 student Clayton Steen likely to serve as the backup quarterback.
Loshny, a league allstar last season on defence, put the Wildcats’ debut in perspective.
“We had our moments, that’s for sure,” he said with a smile. “It was a little sloppy, but it will come together. It was first-game jitters, kind of thing.”
Football Alberta lists tomorrow’s matchup between the Wildcats and Lakers as the Tier 3 high school game of the week.
H.J. Cody, ranked eighth provincially among Tier 3 schools, posted a 9-8 win last week over Lindsay Thurber, a Tier 1 school from Red Deer.
In the weekly provincials rankings released Monday, Stettler secured the 10th position among Tier 3 teams (schools with an enrolment of 450 to 749 students.