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 PETE LUCAROTTI – Herald-Tribune staff


The Grande Prairie Drillers didn’t show up until the second half of Sunday’s Alberta Football League semifinal match against the visiting Calgary Wolfpack.


By that time it was already too late.


The Wolfpack scored on the game’s opening drive and led 21-0 at halftime on the way to a 31-12 win.


John Warr was given medical clearance to start the game at quarterback for the Drillers despite two broken fingers in his non-throwing hand. Unfortunately for the Drillers, Warr, like the rest of the team, got off to a slow start, throwing two interceptions with one leading to an eventual Wolfpack touchdown.


“It was difficult because of the broken hand. I had to go shotgun and it just didn’t give us enough options,” Warr said.


“The run wasn’t there or anything so that’s what the slow start was for. We switched it up in the second half.”

Warr moved closer to centre and his running backs lined up directly behind him in the new formation. While that did eventually bring the Drillers some success, they had first tried subbing in backup quarterback Shane Simms in the second quarter.


Simms barely threw a pass during his stint and the Wolfpack was able to stop the run to keep the Drillers off the scoreboard.


“Let’s be honest, we had a really good quarterback in Johnny who couldn’t take the efficient snaps. Poor Shane was thrown into a dog pit without much of a chance here,” said Drillers coach Tim Skene.


“With the wind picking up and with Calgary’s defence playing the way that they do, he was in a tough spot. But he did what we asked him to do and opened some stuff for us in the fourth quarter.”


While the Drillers offence struggled, Wolfpack quarterback Darryl Leason was picking the Grande Prairie defence apart using the short passing game.


“They were preventing us from throwing the ball deep. We tried a couple of times and it didn’t work out,” said Wolfpack offensive lineman and AFL president Jim Lightfoot.


“It was probably good. This wind was playing havoc with the ball. They were giving us the short passes and we were taking them all day long.”


Leason completed 27 of 43 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Theon James and Terry Eldridge caught TD passes. Running backs Miguel Ceja and Rod Bailey each had rushing majors.


The Drillers finally got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter when Warr completed a play-action pass to running back Holdyn Lorentz. The Drillers missed the convert. Shane Morin rushed the ball in from the Wolfpack one early in the fourth quarter, which was followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion.


The Drillers continued to move the ball well throughout the fourth quarter, but each drive faltered before reaching the Wolfpack end zone.


“We had a good drive, we were down in the end zone, and then we never finished like all our drives,” Simms said.


Sunday’s defeat marks the second year in a row the Drillers have lost in the AFL semifinals. Last year the team allowed 28 points in the final 15 minutes against the Lloydminster Vandals.


The Wolfpack will play the Edmonton Stallions this weekend for their second straight provincial championship. The Stallions upset the first-place Vandals 27-23 on Saturday. The championship game is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.


As for the Drillers, there’s always next year.


“It’s all about heart and passion and every one of these guys are going to have the same itch at Christmas (this) year,” Skene said.


“I’m confident we’ll be 90-95% of the same guys and we’ll give ’er another go.”

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Bucs season ends in thriller

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 9, 2009 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

 By Advocate staff

Wolfpack 56 Buccaneers 49

The Red Deer Buccaneers promised they wouldn’t bow out of the Alberta Football League playoffs without a fight.

And fight they did before dropping a thrilling 56-49 decision to the defending national champion Calgary Wolfpack at Great Chief Park Saturday.

The Bucs, who finished at 1-6-1, needed a win and a Calgary Gators loss in Grande Prairie to grab sixth place.

“We gave it a run,” said Bucs head coach Dave Hanni. “I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. They (Wolfpack) came in here expecting to blow us out and we ran out of time against them.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Wolfpack, behind their outstanding quarterback Darryl Leason, marched the ball down field to score the winning touchdown on a one-yard run by Sean Ahronson with 55.5 seconds remaining in the game.

The Bucs were able to move the ball, as they did all game, against the Wolfpack defence, but simply ran out of time when quarterback Josh Achtemichuk’s final toss fell to the ground at the Calgary five.

Achtemichuk was the story of the game as he connected on 24 of 33 passes for 541 yards and six touchdowns — three to Randy Lawrence, two to Kenton Poelzer and one to Josh Sorensen.

Lawrence had 11 receptions for 230 yards while Poelzer grabbed seven passes for 89 yards and rushed nine times for 43 yards. Sorensen had six catches for 94 yards.

Achtemichuk also ran four times for 27 yards and a touchdown. Jay Pike kicked seven converts.

Meanwhile Leason threw for five touchdowns and a two-point convert and also rushed for one major. Tom Dixon had six converts and a pair of field goals.

Red Deer led 14-0 after the first quarter with the teams tied 28-28 at the half. The Bucs led 42-34 after three quarters.


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Wolfpack beat Buccaneers in final minute

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Aug 9, 2009 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )

 By Danny Rode - Red Deer Advocate

The Red Deer Buccaneers saw their playoff hopes slip away late in their Alberta Football League encounter with the Calgary Wolfpack Saturday at Great Chief Park, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of effort.

The Bucs turned in their best offensive performance of the season, but the Wolfpack broke a 49-49 tie with 55.5 seconds remaining in the game to pull out a 56-49 victory.

The loss left the Bucs with a 1-6-1 record and one point back of the Calgary Gators, who grabbed the sixth and final playoff spot.

But while there was disappointment, there were more smiles than frowns.

“What a way to go out, scoring 49 against the Wolfpack,” said Bucs quarterback Josh Achtemichuk.

The Buccaneers and Wolfpack went back and forth all evening in the highly entertaining affair with Red Deer tying the game at 49-49 with 3:37 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 31-yard pass from Achtemichuk to Randy Lawrence. It was the third time the pair hooked up to find the end zone. Jay Pike kicked his seventh convert and all the Bucs needed was one defensive stand.

However, the Wolfpack, behind outstanding quarterback Darryl Leason, marched the length of the field and took the lead for good when running back Sean Ahronson went in from the one.

The Bucs were able to move the ball, but simply ran out of time.

Achtemichuk, behind a strong offensive line, was the story of the game as he connected on 24 of 33 passes for 541 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 27 yards and one major.

“We watched game film over and over and over again and picked apart what they gave us last time and it worked perfectly,” said Achtemichuk. “And it would have kept working, we just needed more time.”

Kenton Poelzer grabbed seven passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns and rushed nine times for 43 yards. Josh Sorensen had six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Bucs head coach Dave Hanni agreed.

“I’m so happy and proud of these guys,” he said. “They (Wolfpack) were trash talking all week on their website and in the media and saying we wouldn’t get 50 yards rushing and 100 yards passing, but we torched them tonight. What we didn’t want to do was get into a shoot out, a heavyweight fight, but that’s the way it went and they were smiling at the end, because they knew they got away with one.”

But overall the Bucs couldn’t handle Leason, who tossed five touchdowns, a two-point convert and ran in for a major. Former Ottawa Rough Rider Tom Dixon had five converts and two field goals.

Leason threw a pair of touchdowns to Scott Sargent and one each to Ahronson, Hughes Audet and Mike Leason.

“We knew coming in they had their backs to the wall and would be ready for us,” said Darryl Leason. “Josh played a heck-of-a game for them and he gave their receivers a chance to make plays and they did just that.

“That’s a good up and coming team and they’ll be that much better next year. They’ll get more wins and be in the playoffs. Unfortunately they’re not there this year because they’d give some teams problems.

“We came in today a bit banged up but that’s no excuse,” added Leason. “They made the plays and if not for that fumble (on the Calgary one) they may have tied this.”

Achtemichuk, who fumbled after a 10-yard run, felt he may have been down before the fumble.

“Who knows, but we got the ball back and scored right away anyway, so that didn’t determine the outcome,” he said.

Experience played a big role in deciding the game as the Wolfpack are coming off of winning the national championship last year.

“You could see their experience. They made the plays when they had to and have an outstanding quarterback who puts the ball where it has to be,” said Hanni.

“Next year we’ll have more of that. This year we had 25 rookies with 12 to 15 of them starting. And our rookies mainly come out of high school. We may have six guys who played beyond high school while we’re up against ex-pros and a lot of guys out of university and junior.

“If we keep this team together next year we’ll definitely move up.”

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Buccaneers prepare for crucial must-win

Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Jul 28, 2009 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )


The scene is a familiar one for the Red Deer Buccaneers football squad.

With one game to go in the Alberta Football League’s regular season, the Buc’s face a one-game, must-win test with a playoff berth on the line for a second consecutive season.

It’s win and they’re in, and head coach Dave Hanni wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Basically it’s the same thing as last year,” says Hanni. “Grande Prairie came in the last home game of the regular season, win and we were in. We had things well in control too.”

Red Deer couldn’t hold on one year ago, and as a result, missed the AFL playoffs for the third consecutive year.

This season the team faces an even tougher test in their final game (Aug. 8), against the defending National Champion Calgary Wolfpack, who laid a 39-6 licking on the Bucs less than three weeks ago.

After saving their season on the weekend with a 24-24 tie against the Parkland (Spruce Grove) Panthers, Hanni says they’ll take the same mentality into next Saturday’s tilt.

“We impressed upon the guys that there is no tomorrow if we lose. We did that this past weekend and it worked out,” says Hanni. “The Wolfpack are a bit tougher of an opponent. However, we’ve played them before this season. We know who they have and what they do. We know they’re going to pass a lot so we’re going to try and load up and make them beat us on the run, which I don’t think they can do.”

The Bucs recent resurgence into playoff contention has gone hand in hand with the return of veteran Josh Achtemichuk to the quarterback position.

After playing on the defensive side of the ball, number 16 has been back under center in recent weeks, and says he’s glad that they at least have a shot.

“We needed that point (with Parkland) and we’re still alive for the playoffs,” says Achtemichuk. “We wouldn’t have it any other way. What a way to try and make the playoffs.”

Hanni says it can be taxing on the heart watching the notorious high-risk, high-reward quarterback do his thing, but Achtemichuk will also pay dividends. “He threw a couple of good balls and made a couple of crazy interception mistakes, but he’s a gunslinger, and you live and die with your gunslinger. He looked pretty good.”

Another key next weekend will be running back Kenton Poelzer. The second-year Buc has arguably been the club’s MVP this season,

He is currently leads the AFL in rushing yards and carries.

“Kenton is definitely our go-to-guy” says Achtemichuk. “The league knows that, so it will be nice to spread things around and show everyone what our weapons are.”

Confidence and momentum are certainly on Red Deer’s side as they prepare for their biggest game of the season, but the Wolfpack is the immovable object standing in the way.

The four-time National Champion squad, led by quarterback Daryl Leason, has been tearing up the league over the past month, and certainly won’t be mailing it in at Great Chief Park. Achtemichuk says stranger things have certainly happened.

“They’re definitely a beatable team. They’ve had a couple of losses already this season. Spruce Grove beat them and we just showed we can beat Spruce Grove, so I think we definitely have a chance.”

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Posted by Jim Lightfoot at Jul 22, 2009 5:00PM PDT ( 0 Comments )