By Cal Braid
Westwind Weekly News
The Raymond Comets beat the Harry Ainlay Titans 34-15 and are the 2022 provincial football champions. Their season started slowly, but ended with a dominant nine-game winning streak that left no doubt about their status as the elite.
Head coach Connor Ralph sensed that a successful season was within his team’s grasp, but it didn’t materialize immediately. “Going into the year we felt like we had a good team. Early on we played some tough opponents and had a couple of losses.”
“In a weird way that was almost a good thing, because the kids realized that they had to work really hard to reach their potential. The rest of the season they stayed humble and worked hard every week and it paid off in the end.”
The Comets finished the regular season 6-2-1 and ranked number two in the province, second only to Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay Titans. The Comets played the St. Francis Browns in the quarter-final on Nov. 12, cruising to a 39-0 shutout. In the semi-final, they won again, crushing the Ernest Manning Griffins 48-6. Both games were played at home in Comet Stadium thanks to their number two ranking. The provincial final was held at Calgary’s Shouldice Park, where the Comets went facemask to facemask with the Titans. The Comets won 34-15 and celebrated a great year.
The Comets lost 25-15 to the Titans in their season opener and then lost again in week two. After four weeks, they were 1-2-1. According to Matt Baines, an assistant coach with the team, “This is where our season changed.” Drastically. On Sept. 22, they started an incredible streak of wins: 50-0, 59-0, 45-0, 35-0, 51-7, and 15-0. Asked what made the difference, Ralph said, “To be honest, I thought it was just the product of trusting the process and the hard work. We watched a ton of film on opponents, we worked very hard in practice, and we conditioned. I think it was just months of hard work and trusting the process of what would get us better. It paid off. I don’t know if there’s a secret answer other than putting in the work, to be honest.”
Ralph said that as the season went on, “the kids physically got a lot better; in better shape and condition, but also mentally, in terms of techniques, knowing what their opponents were going to try to do, and by watching film and listening to coaching.”
Baines described the team’s balance of strengths. “We had the most dominant defense in the entire province, regardless of tier. Teams that were scoring 50 or 60 points a game would come to play us and we would shut them out. We had an explosive offense that was able to score and give us a chance to win every game we were in. Our special teams units were outstanding and did a phenomenal job of winning the battle of field position.”
Asked if his team grew closer as the year went on, Ralph said, “Yeah, definitely. I don’t think anyone cared who scored the touchdowns or made the tackles. We just wanted to win. After the game when we were all celebrating, I think everyone realized just how special of a moment it was. The kids were all hugging each other and pumped and celebrating. I think they were definitely a very close-knit team, which is a big part of success too.”
Baines noted one very unique feature of the Raymond High School football program; nine of the coaches are RHS alumni and have been part of at least one of the program’s previous seven Tier 1 titles as players. Not only that, but two of those coaches have a son playing on this year’s team, so now both father and son have won titles for RHS. He concluded, “It’s a magnificent accomplishment beating a school like Harry Ainlay, that almost has more students than our entire town.”