The Knights are back in the Alberta Bowl with a shot at redemption.
Holy Trinity Academy advanced to its second straight Football Alberta Tier II provincial championship final after outlasting the Bert Church Chargers 35-22 to win the South region Saturday afternoon at Airdrie’s Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Knights defensive back Jayden Fleck. “We were there last year and lost to Lloydminster and first thing coach said after that game in the locker-room was we’re coming back next year and we’re going to win.
“It means a lot to this team and to HTA, we’ve never won a provincial championship before and this is really big.”
It will not be a rematch of last year’s provincial battle.
In the Northern final, the Austin O’Brien Crusaders knocked off the defending provincial champion Lloydminster Barons 32-31 in a nail-biter on Saturday.
“Last year when we lost it was pretty disappointing so we definitely want to go back and go all the way and win,” said Knights slotback Noah Gutek. “We’re definitely motivated because of how it went down last year.
“We know how to prepare for that mentally and it definitely helps having experience like that.”
Experience certainly helped in the regional final featuring two high-octane offences.
The Chargers opened the scoring with a single point on a missed field goal after a promising drive in the first minute.
Leaving points on the board would prove costly all afternoon.
The Knights made good on their chance to take the lead with Gutek running in on a 5-yard sweep play after earlier on the drive making an acrobatic one-handed catch to keep the chains moving.
“We were trying to hype up our entire team, getting some nice plays,” Gutek said. “I know we were trying to make reads on how they were defending because they were rushing us a lot so we had to focus on the pass.
“We made a few good passes in the first quarter and second quarter and that’s how we got up.”
The Knights did most of their damage in the second-quarter with three touchdowns along with Fleck securing a pair of key interceptions off quarterback Tristan Remus-Arevalo.
The elusive Remus-Arevalo had the Chargers at first-and-goal only to have his pass picked off at the 1-yard line by Fleck in what was a huge turning point.
“It really helped our team to get those picks, especially the one on the goal line where we stopped them short,” Fleck said. “I was told to play press on my corner because we were in goal line situation so I didn’t want to let him get deep.
“I saw that he was looking in my direction and I was prepared and saw that he under-threw it a little bit so I stepped up and got in front of my guy.”
Defence in this case led to offence.
Michael Peloso continued his strong play on both sides of the ball, corralling an 86-yard catch and run in traffic for a massive touchdown.
“We mixed it up, the jets, with Noah and Michael,” said Knights head coach Matt Hassett. “When that wasn’t working we were hitting guys over the middle, which we thought they were a little weak there and that worked really well.
“I really felt the only times we either screwed up or got penalties is when we stopped ourselves.”
Gutek then ran in his second touchdown of the half on a 15-yard sweep play.
Fleck stepped up for another interception on the Chargers next drive, running the ball deep into the Chargers side of the half on the return to set up another major.
Loghan Kenyon added the team’s fourth touchdown of the half on a 15-yard catch and run.
“It is really tough when we have a scrambling QB, especially someone as good as he is,” Fleck said. “But we just needed to keep contain on our linebackers and our end and as soon as we got that and got pressure on him he got a little uncomfortable in the pocket and he threw some iffy passes that really helped our team.”
Bert Church’s Blaise Newberry caught a 25-yard touchdown late in the quarter to make it 28-8 score at the half.
The Chargers made it interesting with a second-half surge.
Newberry was again in the end-zone on a 58-yard major and the Chargers were threatening once again before Knights cornerback Lukas Laskowski stepped up for another crucial interception.
The Knights would add some insurance late in the quarter with quarterback Ben Leggett calling his own number for a 4-yard touchdown run.
“It’s been a bit of an Achilles heel for us, sometimes coverage, we had a guy fall down, they got a touchdown off it, but we’re working on it and we’ll be better,” said Hassett. “The good thing is guys stepped up and we started making picks and plays in the secondary, which we’re going to need.”
The provincial championship is Nov. 22, a 7 p.m. start in Raymond. The Knights are the undefeated No. 1 seed while the Crusaders have the No. 3 ranking.
On top of the consecutive finals appearance, this marks the Knights third trip to the Alberta Bowl.
“It’s great and it just shows a lot of hard work by a lot of coaches and a lot of players,” Hassett said. “We’ve had a lot of the same coaches for a while now and we’re really starting to build this program where we can be competitive every year.”