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Drillers no match for Wolfpack

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 21, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

Drillers no match for Wolfpack

By IVAN DANIELEWICZ

Herald-Tribune staff

Posted 2 hours ago

The finish was almost anti-climatic.

A few loud cheers erupted from the Calgary Wolfpack bench as the final whistle blew. The celebration was echoed by their small congregation of fans in the stands as the team gathered to celebrate its 38-14 championship victory over the Grande Prairie Drillers on Saturday night at Legion Field.

When a championship game has been decided with a full quarter left on the clock, the celebrations have long since played out and the emotions have run flat.

"It wasn't clicking for us today… and the Wolfpack played awesome, so kudos to them," said Drillers quarterback Nate Aldred.

For anyone watching the game Saturday night, the difference between the two teams was the Wolfpack's offence. Riding a perfect mixture of a short passing game and a smash-and-drive running game, the Wolfpack offence never seemed to leave the field throughout the first three quarters.

Every time they needed a first down, Wolfpack quarterback Darryl Leason was there to complete a five or 10 yard pass for a fresh set of downs.

"We ran high-percentage plays and we were successful," Leason said. "Lets face it, in this league, second down is critical. If you only get two or three yards on your first down, then you have to complete that pass on second down, otherwise you're punting. But we made some smart calls."

For every minute the Wolfpack's offence was on the field, it meant that Aldred and the Drillers offence was sitting, watching, and ultimately cooling off.

"Their offence just chews the clock up every time we play them and it just kills our defence, wears them down, and our offence just doesn't get clicking," Aldred said. "There were too many two-and-outs in the first half and that can't happen in a championship game. We have to score when we can."

While the Wolfpack did a great job keeping the Drillers' offence off the field, penalties hampered the Drillers on the field. Every time the Drillers made a big play or secured a first down, the flags flew and the team was forced to try bigger-yardage plays that came up short.

Speaking in his most diplomatic tone, Drillers head coach Trevor Prichard had a tough time talking about the penalties after the game.

"I know that there were a lot of people saying, 'Why did you take so many penalties?'," Prichard said.

"Well when (the refs) are throwing them on us… it makes it difficult to build momentum and it makes it difficult to get things going, because every time you do something right, you keep getting knocked down.

"I don't know why it was always that we're getting them, but it is what it is. We lost the game, nobody lost the game for us, but us… it is very frustrating."

The Drillers record drops to 0-4 against the Wolfpack in the playoffs, surrendering 184 points over the four games while scoring 38.

While the Drillers went on to lose the game, they were the stronger team coming out of the gate. Staying with tradition, the Drillers started with a short kick that they recovered.

A few plays later they were in scoring distance. After failing to get another first down, the Drillers attempted a field goal, which was hit wide by kicker Tyler Fulmek for a single point.

On the Wolfpack's ensuing possession, they capped of a lengthy drive when fullback Matt Squires ran it in for the major and a 7-1 lead at 4:12 of the first quarter.

Squires struck again in the second quarter on another short-yardage touchdown run to lift the score to 14-1 at 8:19.

The Drillers' offence began to flare up after the three-minute warning and at 1:45, Driller Symon Pfau scored a 105-yard touchdown close the score to 14-8.

The Wolfpack lifted the score to 15-8 on a missed field goal attempt just before half time.

In the third quarter, the Wolfpack's kicking game came through and they scored a field goal at 11:55 to lift the score to 18-8.

To seal the game, Wolfpack's wide receiver Tim Johnson scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, at 9:35 and 3:42, to lift the score 32-8. Wolfpack running back Sean Ahronson put the game out of reach when he scored a touchdown at 10:12 of the fourth quarter that bumped the score to 38-8 when the conversion was missed.

Drillers running back Wisam Azooz scored late in the fourth quarter to close the score to 38-14.

ivan@dailyheraldtribune.com

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Wolfpack celebrate 14th league championship

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 21, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

Wolfpack celebrate 14th league championship

By IVAN DANIELEWICZ

Herald-Tribune staff Posted

4 hours ago

All that was missing was the music, seriously.

As Calgary Wolfpack head coach Art Walker watched his team celebrate its Alberta Football League's championship victory over the Grande Prairie Drillers on Saturday, Queen's 'We Are the Champions' was blaring away in his mind.

"I play it every freaking day," said Walker, a look of intensity glaring from his eyes as he spoke about his squad's 38-14 win over the Drillers. "Everybody else in this league wants to beat us and if they do, sometimes they let their guard down and that's when we come back.

"We've lost to Grande Prairie (four) times in the regular season but we've never lost in the playoffs. We've always had close games in the regular season and then we always solidify in the playoffs."

Walker's excitement was overly visible, and why not? The Wolfpack had just captured their 14th league championship, 10 more than any other AFL team, and they are now off to compete for a fifth national championship title.

The Wolfpack last captured the AFL crown in 2008, the same year they won their last national championship.

The victory also reinforced the Wolfpack's status as the top team in the Alberta Football League as they defeated the up-and-coming Drillers that are currently second-in-line.

"It's always a tough road and every year you get one year older and it gets tougher and everyone else gets hungrier, and they put up a big fight," said Wolfpack quarterback Darryl Leason. "You know, hats off to Grande Prairie, they had a tremendous season, they fought hard all season long, but you know everything was on the line (on Saturday) and we played balls to the wall… and that just speaks tremendous of all the guys."

While humbled in the defeat, the loss only reinforced the Drillers desire to get back to this stage next season and prove to the Wolfpack they are on the same level.

"It's been brought up lots, they have 63 (AFL) championship rings and the thing is we are going to get there," said Drillers head coach Trevor Prichard. "We have a core of 25- to 28-years-olds with over 10 years of football left that are very hungry.

"Not one guy on that bench (Saturday night) said 'Well, I don't know if I'm playing next year.' All I could hear in the fourth quarter was that they want to get in the gym, they want to get better, and they want to go get these guys."

The Wolfpack will now battle the Tri-City (Waterloo) Outlaws of the Northern Football Conference in Ontario for the Canadian Major Football League title. The Outlaws defeated the Ottawa Invaders 12-11 on Saturday.

"Each year, when we start out, and I do my recruiting to get the players that I need, our only thought is to get to the nationals, nothing but the nationals," Walker said. "Once you've been there, you only have to go once, and then all you want to do is go back. When you've been back a couple of times, you set your sights high, really high.

"A lot of these guys haven't won a championship and right now they are in seventh heaven. If we go down there and win, they will then understand what it's all about."

The national championship game takes place on Sept. 17 at the University of Waterloo's Warrior Field in Waterloo, Ontario.

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Wolfpack wary of Drillers' dynamic duo

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 18, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

By TERRY FARRELL Herald-Tribune staff

Posted 1 hour ago

Calgary Wolfpack president and offensive lineman Jim Lightfoot said there are two main concerns for the Wolfpack as they prepare to meet the Grande Prairie Drillers in the Alberta Football League championship game.

"Nathan Aldred and Symon Pfau," he said without hesitation, of the Drillers' quarterback and receiver. "Obviously they both had tremendous years and with a guy like Symon, we were talking about it in practice, that you don't really, you can't stop a guy like that. I was telling the guys in practice, look, expect that he is going to score three touchdowns against us. That is almost automatic with the way his has been playing this year. What our task is, is to accept that... and (focus on) shutting down the other guys, because they have some pretty decent weapons outside of that. So it's those (other) guys that we need to shut down, and accept the fact that Symon is going to score his points and make his big plays."

Aldred and Pfau have been lethal to oppositions all season. Aldred finished the season as the league's top quarterback in passing yards (2,378), touchdown passes (28) and QB rating (71.7%). Pfau led the league in almost every receiving category. With 1,207 receiving yards, he was not only the league's sole 1,000-yard receiver, but also had 400 more than second-ranked Jess Valleau of Lloydminster. He and Valleau were tied for the league lead with 53 receptions apiece. His 18 TDs in seven regular season games was 50% higher than anyone else (Wolfpack receiver Mike Leason had 12). And he was only surpassed in yards per catch (22.8) by teammate John Warr (24.0), among all players with at least 10 catches this season.

That said, the Wolfpack have weapons of their own, not the least of which is quarterback Darryl Leason who, with 2,295 passing yards, 24 majors and a 68.4% efficiency rating, sits second to Aldred in all categories. In short, this championship game should be every bit as close as the 50-49 Drillers victory in the regular season, July 9 at Legion Field. "Based on that last game, it could very well end up being whoever has the ball in their hands on the last drive that could end up being the winners, for sure," Lightfoot said. "I certainly don't see one team running away with this. I can't see either team winning by more than seven."

Lightfoot said the keys to victory are simple and typical. "I suppose everyone always answers this (this way) but you know, hopefully avoid turnovers – that's a big one; don't get too high when we score and don't get too low when we give up one and keep battling to the end. I think it's going to come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes and we are hoping that maybe that's where our experience kicks in," he said. And experience they have. Make no mistake, the Wolfpack are the more experienced of the two clubs and that alone can support the argument that the visitors should be considered favourites.

The Wolfpack locker room is bursting with big-game experience. Seventeen Calgary players combine for a total of 63 AFL championships in the visitors' dressing room. The Drillers have none, but that's not to say they have no big-game experience. Aldred, Pfau, Tyler Desjarlais, James Watson and Wisam Azooz were all members of the 2004 Edmonton Huskies team that won the Canadian junior football championship. But the edge, in numbers, goes to the Wolfpack. In a lot of ways, this game reflects a "Legends vs. Heirs Apparent" angle and the Wolfpack are hoping the experience is the x-factor. "For those of us who have been there before and have a few (championships), I suppose we don't get as wound up as before," said Lightfoot. "So I suppose if there is an advantage in experience, then I guess that advantage would probably go to us, especially on offence. We have a lot of guys that have sort of been there and done that. So we do have our fingers crossed a bit that maybe a little of the 'first-time jitters' will get to the Drillers and help us out a bit." "But a good half of our team hasn't been around since we won our last one in 2008. So we have some young guys and you just never know how they are going to react in tough situations. We (veterans) just try to dial them (newcomers) down a bit because you can get yourself overly worked up and that usually works against you."

That one-point difference in the July 9 victory was what earned the Drillers home field advantage for Saturday's game. Lightfoot expects another game just like that one. From his team's standpoint, nothing changes from the July 9 encounter. "Not a thing," he said. "We do our thing and that's been pretty successful for us in the past. We're just going to go with it and play the game and see what happens."

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Vandals fall inches short against Calgary

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 15, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

Posted: Monday, August 15, 2011 3:15 pm

Vandals fall inches short against Calgary

Rod Oracheski Star News Inc

After the first half of Saturday’s Alberta Football League (AFL) semi-final, the Calgary Wolfpack believed they had the game in the bag. Calgary was up 27-3 at the end of the first half, then scored on the first drive of the second half to open up a 34-3 lead.

Down 31 points, the Vandals chose to fight back instead of pack it in, and dominated the second half. Lloydminster closed the gap steadily, scoring 15 points to trail 34-18 at the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Lloydminster intercepted the ball at their own 45 to start a drive, completing twice in third-and-six situations, the first for a 40 yard gain and the second for the touchdown. The two-point convert made it 34-26 with 8:35 left on the clock as the defence took the field.

A two-and-out by the Wolfpack led to a third-down kick and Lloydminster regaining the ball for a last drive, starting from their 40 yard line. After gaining five yards on the first drive, the Vandals had a dropped pass on the second attempt that set up a third and five decision: keep it or kick it? Quarterback Jared Valleau elected to stay on the field, calling his own number on a 30 yard scramble for a fresh set of downs on the Wolfpack’s 31-yard line.

The Vandals managed just a four-yard completion in the next two plays, setting up a third-and-six. Once again the Vandals left kicker Brad Ollen on the bench, with Valleau completing a 20 yard pass for the first down on Calgary’s 11-yard line with 4:05 left on the clock. Valleau’s first pass was to the endzone, with the receiver just out of bounds. Another pass on second-and-10 was nearly intercepted, setting up the third third-down of the drive.

Once again, Valleau called his own number and battled to the vicinity of the one-yard line. Officials hauled out the flags for a measurement, which showed the Vandals drive came up short by inches. The Wolfpack marched down the field, hitting a third-and-one with 23 seconds left that they successfully gambled on for the first down to seal the victory.

Wide receiver Jordan Priebe said the finish was an exciting one to take part in. “Jared was just inches short,” he said. “I was in the endzone and saw him diving for it. I really thought he got in. It was a great game once we got into it. It was the most involved in a game that I’ve ever felt.”

The ‘Wolfpack curse’ continues, with the Vandals having never beaten their Calgary rivals. Priebe said that being close at the end made the loss even more aggravating. “It’s frustrating, but you come away thinking ‘next time is the one’ because it’s so close,” he said, then laughed. “We always think that after every loss against them though.”

This was the first time the Wolfpack showed real concern late in the game, however, going for the first down on a third-and-one with 23 seconds left on the clock instead of kicking the ball deep. “They weren’t risking anything there at the end,” Priebe noted. “They were worried about what we might do. The second half was a complete reversal of the first. We could do no wrong in the second half on offence or defence, and that wasn’t the case in the first half at all.”

Vandals kicker Brad Ollen, following Saturday’s loss, said he’s played his last game. Priebe said he’s not sure whether that will last longer than Ollen’s past retirements, which began in 2009. “Anyone can say they’re quitting now, it’s harder to stick to it when the season comes around again,” he laughed.

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Drillers win a nail-biter

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Jul 11, 2011 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

With the game—their play-off hopes—on the line, the Grande Prairie Drillers didn't disappoint on a rainy Saturday night in Grande Prairie. With 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Drillers trailed the Wolfpack 49-48 after just scoring a touchdown.

Stepping up to take the convert, Drillers Tyler Fulmek easily kicked the football through the uprights as penalty flags flew left and right; off-setting penalties to both teams forced another convert attempt. Not second-guessing a gut-feeling, Drillers head coach Trevor Prichard called for a two-point convert. Snapping the ball, Drillers quarterback Nate Aldred rolled out to the left, tracked down a receiver and launched the ball. Coolly collecting the ball, Drillers Brent Fulmek stepped over the endzone line for the game-winning conversion as the Drillers won a nail-biter 50-49 at Legion Field.

While the Drillers continued to celebrate long after the final whistle, Prichard broke down the decision to go for two points. "I looked at Nate and said, 'What do you want to do?,'" Prichard said. "He said, 'Let's go for the win,' and I said, 'If you want to do it then so do I.' We set up that play action and I told Nate that he gets one read and if he sees one that he likes, take it; otherwise run it in. "He's athletic enough that when they pressed him, he had the perfect pass to Brent."

Knowing the game was in his hands, Aldred didn't think twice when executing the game-winning play. "I felt with the way it was going, the excitement on the side-lines, we had held the momentum throughout the whole fourth quarter, yeah I felt we had it," Aldred said. "The defence didn't want to go out there and get the ball back, they wanted the win out of (the offence). "It was on our shoulders."

While built-up as a battle between two of the top quarterbacks in the league, the rain turned the game into a battle on the ground. While Holden Lorentz led the way for the Wolfpack, Brent was the go-to guy for the Drillers. "Coming in with all that rain, I figured it would be a running game from the get-go," Brent said. "We came out and we tried to throw the ball and it worked here and there, but it stalled out on some drives. "Coach just said we have to get down and play some dirty football, start running the ball, owning the clock, and that's what we did."

In Saturday night's game, Brent ran for 144 yards and scored three touchdowns on 22 carries compared to Lorentz's 96 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Brent took little recognition for his performance against the Wolfpack, instead he gave all the credit to the Driller's offensive line. "I don't think I led the way, it really started at the o-line," Brent said. "I wouldn't have been able to get the yards I got without the o-line making the blocks and having Travis Miller, the fullback, in front of me."

While Drillers receivers usually own the stat-sheet, Prichard was quick to point out the team's runningbacks have played a huge role in the success of the team throughout the year. "What people don't see is that our runningbacks have pretty much had hundred-yard rushing games all season and we've done it with four different runners," he said. With the win, the Drillers move to 5-0 in the seven-game season, while the Wolfpack fall to 4-1.

Prichard said that while team had already earned a playoff spot heading into Saturday's tilt, the win moves them closer to clinching home-field throughout the entire post-season. "We don't just want to have home-field advantage, we want to have playoff control and that means home-field for the entire playoffs," he said. "That means other teams have to come here. Calgary and Lloydminster are not fun places to travel to."

The Drillers are back in action against the Central Alberta Buccaneers this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Legion Field. ivan@dailyheraldtribune.com