In the yearly rivalry game between Airdrie's two west-side high-school football programs, the W.H. Croxford Cavaliers football team came out on top, claiming the West Side Championship belt against the George McDougall Mustangs on Sept. 2.
Playing in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, the Cavaliers downed their nearby neighbours 22-17 in a tightly fought battle at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park, marking their first victory over George McDougall since 2019.
“It’s something that showcases all the hard work we’ve put in over the last year and in the off-season,” said Josiah Donahue, Croxford's head coach and offensive coordinator. “I also have a super strong senior class, and it showcases their skillset and determination to come back after a season like last season.”
According to Donahue, the teams were neck-and-neck until late in the fourth quarter. After the Mustangs took the lead with about four minutes left, they gave away a few defensive penalties that put the Cavaliers' o-line just a yard out from the end zone. From there, Croxford's Aiden Schopf was able to punch the ball in to take the lead with just 20 seconds left on the lock.
While the Mustangs nearly scored on the ensuing return, Donahue said the Cavaliers defence managed to stop Mustangs running back Paul Condon from getting into Croxford's end zone.
“It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of – lots of emotion, for sure,” he said.
Donahue said Croxford's offence was clicking on Friday. Quarterback Jager Kleisinger threw for 172 yards and three touchdowns, while Tyson Heather caught four passes and registered 63 yards, as well as two TDs. Schopf caught two passes and gained 55 yards.
On defence, Donahue said the Cavs forced five turnovers – Marcus Lowe caught two interceptions and Grade 12 player Khaleel Rahim earned one fumble recovery.
On a sour note, Donahue said the game was paused for nearly an hour as the two teams waited for an ambulance after Heather was injured.
“That was a challenge for our guys, trying to overcome [losing] not just a player but a brother, in a sense,” he said. “He’s a big factor for our team – he’s a starting receiver, starting corner, our kicker as well. Trying to overcome that adversity was huge for us.”
While the game between the two west Airdrie schools is simply a Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) regular-season fixture, last year, the two teams introduced the inaugural West Side Championship belt – a WWE-style belt that the winning team takes to their school for the remainder of the school year. The idea came on the heels of the long-fought Airdrie Bowl trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the annual regular-season game between George McDougall and Bert Church Chargers.
The Mustangs claimed the West Side Championship belt in 2021, but Donahue said it felt good to avenge last year's result.
“When you have something extra on the line, it’s always a little bit [more intense],” he said. “But playing any team in Rocky View, there’s always a chip on our shoulders. Every game is big, especially now that most of us are Tier II [schools].”
George McDougall's head coach Chris Glass said the defensive penalties from his side on the Cavaliers' final drive were what cost the Mustangs from reclaiming the belt this year.
“Croxford, that’s the best they’ve looked in a couple of years and we can’t afford to make the mistakes we made against them without having them make us pay for it, because they’re too good of a team,” he said.
With the late win, the Cavaliers remain unbeaten in 2022, as they also won their RVSA season-opener 48-0 against the Chestermere Lakers the week before. As a result of their two wins, Croxford is currently ranked third by Football Alberta on the top-10 provincial rankings of Tier II high-school teams.
Even though they lost, George McDougall is currently ranked fifth.
Donahue said the Cavaliers' strong start to 2022 is the result of buy-in from both the players and the coaches.
“Now that we have a strong group of teacher coaches in the building, that’s a big difference that not every school has,” he said. “For us, it’s a building block to be successful. We’re in the building all the time, building the culture we want. It’s been a slow process but hopefully we’ll keep building it from here.”
Next up for the Cavaliers is a road trip to face the Bow Valley Bobcats on Friday evening. Meanwhile, the Mustangs will look to regroup against the Springbank Phoenix.
Despite the positive start, Donahue said the Cavaliers' goal is to keep building off their early victories in order to be at their best by the time playoffs arrive.
“There’s a good chance George Mac will be in the playoffs against us so this is one of those games we have to keep building and growing so we’re not peaking [too early],” he said.