A penalty call on a two-point conversion in the final 20 seconds was all that separated the Airdrie Irish from its first win of the 2019 Alberta Football League (AFL) season, when the team fell 21-20 to the Calgary Wolfpack at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.
Despite the loss, Irish linebacker Anton Bellot said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“We were short-staffed, with a few people missing, but the heart we came out with was definitely really good,” he said. “I thought we won it, but at the end of the day, that’s what football is.”
It was a dramatic game June 1, with most of the excitement for the roughly 120 fans in attendance reserved for the final few minutes.
Most of the first half was a matter of taking one step forward and two steps back – every time Airdrie advanced to within scoring range, the team would turn the ball over when it mattered most.
The Wolfpack capitalized on Airdrie’s slow start to take a 7-1 lead in the first half and a 13-7 lead in the third quarter.
Calgary extended its lead to 21-7 with a single and another touchdown in the fourth quarter, and with only 90 seconds left on the clock, the result seemed all but secure for the purple-clad visitors.
The play that changed the momentum of the game came with 1:19 left, when Airdrie’s Erik Kyler went coast-to-coast on a 100-yard punt return. But an illegal block from an Irish player meant the lung-bursting run didn’t count as a TD. Airdrie regrouped and lined up the ball on the Wolfpack’s 10-yard line, scoring on second down when James Balsdon caught a pass from quarterback Darius Smith in the end zone.
Down by just seven points and with a minute left, Airdrie went for an on-side kick. The Irish failed to recover the ball, but quickly managed to force a Wolfpack fumble. The home team’s last-ditch effort resulted in a drive that brought the squad to Calgary’s two-yard line, when Denzel Molet caught a long pass from Smith near the end zone.
Airdrie’s fans were on their feet when Braxton Hyland managed to muscle the ball over the line, reducing Calgary’s lead to just one point.
At that moment, the Irish coaching staff had to make the decision every football coach has to make when they’re down one point late in the game – do you risk it all and go for two points, or score the easier one-point convert and prepare for overtime?
In this case, there was only one right decision.
“To be honest, we weren’t really hitting our field goals the way we wanted to, so we thought we should go for the win and get it over quick,” Smith said.
Airdrie’s players thought they clinched the victory with a successful two-point convert, but a flag was thrown and the team had to try again from farther out. This time, Irish running back Connor Lutz was swarmed at the 10-yard line and the play failed.
“The game didn’t go as we planned, but we played really well in the second half,” Smith said. “With more execution for next game, I think we’ll do pretty well.”
Now 0-2 on the season, the Irish’s next game will be another tough outing. The team will travel north June 8 to take on the defending AFL champion and national title-holder, the Fort McMurray Monarchs. Airdrie will be back at home June 15 to face the Central Alberta Buccaneers.