A 4-1 regular-season record has propelled the Airdrie Raiders midget football team into the second round of the Calgary Spring Football Association (CSFA) playoffs.
According to head coach Steve Kemp, this season marks the first time since 2014 that Airdrie’s U17 boys' football team has finished in the top two of the CSFA regular-season standings. The Raiders boasted both the second-best offence and defence in the regular season, outscoring opponents 134-48 throughout their five games.
“We did a lot of good things and were able to find our groove and our identity,” Kemp said. “Our defence was one of the top defences in the league all year and our offence was, as well. We had one blip on the radar there, but we hopefully learned from our mistakes and our practice habits, and corrected things.”
After opening the regular season with a 28-7 victory over the Calgary Colts on April 1, the Raiders followed up with an emphatic 49-0 shutout over the Calgary Stampeders the following week.
Airdrie’s sole loss came in their next game, at the hands of the undefeated Calgary Cowboys, who beat the Raiders 21-7 on April 21. According to Kemp, the Airdrie players had come off of a bye week and put forward a lacklustre performance against a tough team. He added the Cowboys jumped out to an early lead, which made it difficult for the Raiders to claw their way back into the contest.
“They’re always the class of the league,” Kemp said of the 6-0 Cowboys. “That’s how you measure yourself – against the Cowboys – because they’re always at the top.
“They’re very well coached, very disciplined, and when they have a lead, they can really dictate the pace.”
Apart from that one setback, Kemp said the Raiders have shown their focus and determination throughout the 2022 campaign, ending the regular-season schedule with a 16-0 win over the Calgary Bulldogs on April 29 and a 34-20 victory over the Calgary Wildcats on May 6.
Thanks to their second-place showing, the Raiders enjoyed a bye through the first round of the CSFA playoffs this past weekend.
“Last week we had a big win to secure second place and that first-round bye, which was important to us, to get that rest and get some of our guys feeling 100 per cent,” Kemp said.
Airdrie will return to the gridiron on Thursday, May 19 to face the Wildcats. Kick-off is slated for 8:15 p.m. at Shouldice Athletic Park.
Kemp said the team’s focus in the lead-up to that game will be on tempo and rhythm for the offence, and drops, spacing, and gap control for the defence.
“When we’re playing with our tempo and rhythm, we’re moving the ball really well and we’re in and out of the huddle,” he said. “On defence, we have some adjustments after playing the Wildcats. It’s about working on the details of the game – drops, spacings, gap control, that kind of stuff.
“Our defence has done really well this year, but we need to get back to the little details.”
Their first playoff game around the corner, Kemp added the Raiders’ most recent practices have shown how hungry the players are to contest for the CSFA title this spring.
“I think they’re a focused group, and practicing during the bye week was much better than during our first one this year,” he said.
“I believe we’ve learned from our mistake and they’re focused on winning a championship. They have that goal in mind and are working hard towards it.”