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Bert Church loses southern final to HTA

A history-making season for the Bert Church Chargers football team has come to an end, following a spirited loss in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association’s Tier II southern final Nov. 16 at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.

Playing the top-ranked Tier II team in Alberta – the Holy Trinity Academy (HTA) Knights – for a berth in the 2019 Alberta Bowl, the Chargers fell 35-22.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on the team’s first provincial championship since 1993, coach Mitchell Bates said the players held their heads high after the final whistle sounded.

“We went toe-to-toe with the top Tier II team in Alberta and the top small school in Canada,” he said. “It shows a lot about the kids in this program, the heart they have and how hard they worked to get here.”

After Bert Church capped off the opening drive with a single, a one-handed catch-and-run from HTA’s senior slot back Noah Gutek brought the Knights deep into the Chargers’ territory, setting him up for a five-yard punch into the end zone on the ensuing play.

“They have some extremely talented kids,” said Bates of the Okotoks-based team, which won this year’s Big Rock Conference with an 8-0 record. “[Michael Peloso] and [Gutek] are studs, and they made plays.”

The Chargers started the second quarter with a huge surge from running back Matthew Jardine that brought the offence into the Knights’ red zone. But a pick thrown on a first-and-goal on the next play from quarterback Tristan Remus-Arevalo resulted in a turnover of possession.

The interception took the wind out of Bert Church’s sails and shifted the momentum back towards the Okotokians. A few minutes later, Peloso, a Grade-11 slot back who has Canada Cup experience with Team Alberta, registered a 75-yard catch-and-run to increase the Knights’ lead to 13-1.

The touchdowns kept coming for HTA, with Gutek getting his second of the game on a 15-yard play and Loghan Kenyon scoring to extend the Knights’ lead to 28-1.

The Chargers finally stopped the bleeding with a TD two-and-a-half minutes before halftime, when Remus-Arevalo found senior wide receiver Blaise Newberry on the left side of the end zone for a 15-yard catch. The one-point kick was good, which brought the score to 28-8 as the teams went into the break.

Down by 20 with just two quarters left, Bates said the coaches challenged the players to give their all in the second half.

“[We asked them to] just look at each other and know they promised they were going to leave it all out on the field today – to go out and play to the final whistle,” he said.

The halftime pep talk paid dividends, and the Chargers reduced the deficit to 13 points just four minutes into the third quarter. Remus-Arevalo found Newberry wide open on the left side, and the 17-year-old had an open lane into the end zone.

But any chance of a Hollywood-inspired comeback was snuffed out on the last play of the third quarter, when senior pivot Ben Leggett pushed in the Knights’ fifth touchdown, bringing the score to 35-15.

Newberry thought he scored his third touchdown with a long run down the left side early into the fourth quarter, but the play was called back on an offensive penalty.

Bert Church gave its fans one more reason to cheer in the final five minutes, when senior Tyler Ruck and Remus-Arevalo connected for the Chargers’ third major of the game. It would only amount to a consolation TD, as the Knights managed to hold onto the lead for the remainder of the contest.

The loss, however, would not undermine the Chargers' best season in more than 25 years.

“We built this team from the ground up, and it feels so good that we even got here, to the southern final,” said captain Dylan Sorsdahl. “I would have never imagined that – it’s a huge accomplishment.”

Bert Church concluded 2019 with an 8-3 record, with its only defeats coming in two battles against the Cochrane Cobras – the top-ranked Tier III team in Alberta – and the Knights.

“I think that’s a credit to how hard the kids have worked this year and how hard the coaches have worked,” Bates said, adding this year marked the team’s first time playing in provincials since the 1990s.

“We’re building for the long haul and changing the culture,” he said. “I think, next year, we’re going to come back. These seniors have laid out the pattern for what it needs to look like – how hard [the players] need to work in the off season – to be successful.

“We’re going to try to build on this, take it one step farther and win that provincial gold.”


Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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