By Garrett Simmons
Westwind Weekly News
There are few things better in sports than beating your biggest rival.
The Raymond Comets did just that Friday night with a huge 31-14 win over the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute Rams.
It was a massive win against the second-ranked Rams, a team that looked destined to make a deep playoff run. Raymond had other ideas, as the Comets bounced back from an early-season 28-7 loss to the Rams and won the big game that counted.
For the Comets, it was the defence that led the way early.
“The biggest difference on defence is that we were healthy going into the game,” said Raymond assistant coach Matt Baines. “We got several key players back which really helped. Also, I feel our players did an awesome job of hitting hard. That is the hardest we have hit all year. The defence truly swarmed to the ball. Even their second touchdown, we hit the ball carrier and caused a fumble. The ball bounced into the endzone and LCI recovered their own fumble in the endzone for the score.”
The game was tight early, as Raymond opened the scoring with a TD in the second quarter after a scoreless first. A kickoff single made it 8-0 before the Rams made it 8-8 with a TD and a two-point convert late in the first half.
Raymond struck early in the third to make it 15-8, before LCI brought it to 15-14 with an early fourth-quarter score.
The Comets broke it open with two more TDs in the fourth, along with a kickoff single, to finish off the game by a 31-14 score.
Raymond’s big second half all started with a huge boost on special teams.
“The opening play of the second half we returned the kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown,” said Baines. “That really set the tone well for the second half.”
From there, the defence took over.
“I think we sparked the late-game scoring with our defence,” said Baines. “LCI scored a TD to make it 15-14 and then went for two to try and get the lead and we stopped them, which kept our lead. After that, we had all the momentum.”
It has been a season of growth for the Comets, as Baines added his team has shown considerable improvement since the start of the year.
“The players have just continued to settle in and get more comfortable in their positions,” he said. “We are a super-young team, so the season itself helped us to be more confident. Also, being healthy at this time of the season really helps. We had way too many starters sitting on the bench for some of our early-season losses.”
Those loses included tough games against some of the best teams in the province.
“In game one we played Harry Ainlay, who was ranked No. 1 all year, closer than anyone played them all season,” said Baines. “I think lots of people forget about that. We hit a really tough stretch with some bad luck and some injuries, combined with just not playing well. The team has had to really toughen up and focus on becoming better.”
Traditionally, teams put a massive emphasis on defence and offence, but Baines added one other facet of his team’s game has really stood out in terms of the progress made.
“Biggest improvements have been in our kicking game and our confidence,” he said. “Our special teams are playing great and all of the players continue to be more confident week after week.”
Confidence is a funny thing, and with that one your side, big wins like Friday’s over LCI are that much sweeter.
“It felt great,” said Baines of the win over the Rams. “We knew we had what it took to beat them this season and we were very disappointed in our performance in the first game with them. The players were super hungry to avenge that loss and get the season back on track.”
With a massive win over the Rams, Raymond now prepares for a date with Calgary’s Earnest Manning, as the provincial ranking committee overlooked the Comets for a spot in the new Tier 1 final four playoff.
“Who we play next was decided by a committee this season,” said Baines. “For the first time ever, the ASAA/Football Alberta has done away with the traditional playoff system and decided that a ranking committee would vote who are the top four teams in the province, and they are the ones who get to play for what used to be called the Tier 1 provincial title.”
Despite a big win over a LCI team that was ranked No. 2 in Alberta, the Comets did not make the cut, according to the committee.
“The committee didn’t look south of Calgary though, as they just placed two Calgary teams and two Edmonton teams in that playoff,” said Baines. “So, we now drop to what they are calling a Tier 1 Regional based playoff, and we travel to Okotoks to play Foothills on Saturday.”