By Garrett Simmons
Westwind Weekly News
The Raymond Comets are off to the Football Alberta Tier 1 championship game.
The bantam football team will take on the Sherwood Park Rams Saturday at 1 p.m. in Raymond at Comet Stadium, with provincial bragging rights on the line.
Raymond advanced to the final with a 13-3 win on Saturday against the Calgary Stampeders. It sets up a date with the Rams, the same team that captured the Tier 1 title in 2016 with a 36-22 victory over the Calgary Hilltops.
“Our defence played great all game,” said Raymond head coach Jared Heggie. “The offence moved the ball well, but struggled with a couple turnovers in the first half. In the second half the boys dug in and scored on a couple running plays by Parker Sillito.”
But the fact the Comets advanced to the provincial semifinal is a feat in itself, as Raymond had to post a miraculous 22-21 win the week prior over the Lethbridge Jr. Rams, in order to win the Southern Alberta Minor Football Association Tier 1 championship.
It was a back-and-forth game, according to Heggie, which came down to a nail-biting finish.
Raymond controlled the play early, but could not come away with points.
“We started out the first quarter very strong offensively and defensively,” said Heggie, who added his team was inside the Rams 20 yard line for most of the first quarter. “We had a couple fumbles on offence that ended promising drives.”
The Comets broke through with a touchdown from the one-yard line by Ty Mazutinec on the first play of the second quarter, but Raymond missed the extra point, which nearly proved costly.
The third quarter saw a few turnovers on both sides of the ball, as the Rams scored on a play from the one-yard line to respond.
Then, the contest took a number of crazy turns in the final frame.
“In the fourth quarter the Rams were marching on our defence when our boys forced a fumble from one of the Rams running backs,” said Heggie. “On our next offensive play, Ty Mazutinec took a direct snap from the centre and ran the ball 60 yards for a TD. He was able to break a couple tackles on the play and jumped over the last defender standing between him and end zone. Our offence has a number of players that are able to break big plays and Ty did not disappoint in that regard.”
Following the touchdown, Raymond opted to go for a two-point conversion. Quarterback Boston Harker was able to scramble in to make the score 14-7.
That was just the beginning of a frenzied fourth quarter, as the Rams offence scored twice to make the score 21-14 Lethbridge. With less than a minute on the clock, it set up what would become one of the most dramatic comebacks in SAMFA history.
“Our offence got the ball back with 53 seconds left in the game with 66 yards needed for the score,” said Heggie, who added once again, Mazutinec came up huge. “Ty has shown us in practice that he has the ability to throw a deep accurate ball. And, we have receivers that can get open and make the big catches.”
Mazutinec displayed that arm, as he connected with Parker Sillito on a 68-yard catch and run.
“At this point both teams are starting to wear from the intensity of the game and the cold weather,” said Heggie, who added Raymond had an important decision to make. “As a coaching staff, we now have 20 seconds to make a decision to go for the tie or try and take the lead. We had been stressing the execution of very specific plays for these types of situations in practice all week and had confidence that our players could do it here.”
Lethbridge opted to take its last time out, which gave the Comets coaches a chance to talk to the players and draw up one last play.
“When our offence returned to the field they were able to draw the LCI defence offside, which moved the ball to the two-and-a-half yard line,” said Heggie. “From there, our offensive line was able to get a big push and Ty was able to get into the end zone, putting us up 22-21.”
With the excitement of the two-point convert still fresh in their minds, Raymond’s defence had to go out and close out the contest.
“There was still enough time for the Rams to run three offensive plays,” said Heggie. “Our defence was able to end the game with a stop.”
For Heggie, the league championship was a testament to not only his team’s overall talent, but also its mental makeup.
“We have a great group of leaders on our team this year and they set their sights high at the beginning of the season, making a SAMFA championship one of their goals. It was great to watch these young men celebrate the realization of this goal following the game. There were chances for them to throw in the towel during the game, but they rallied every time they needed to. They are a physically capable team, but most importantly they stayed mentally tough in the cold conditions and I feel it was the difference for them in this win.”
The head coach added Saturday’s contest will be a tough one for his Comets.
“It’s a very strong Sherwood Park Rams team coming down. Defence will be key to success and keeping the ball out of their offence’s hands.”