An explosive first-half performance and a late field goal block ensured the ghosts of 2014 didn’t come back to haunt the Airdrie Raiders midget football team.
Five years after giving up a 42-18 lead against the Calgary Mavericks to lose the 2014 Calgary and Area Midget Football Association championship, the Raiders held onto a 28-26 lead May 29 to win the Calgary Spring Football Association (CSFA) Division 2 championship game at Shouldice Athletic Park.
The nail-biter victory ended what the Raiders coaching staff called “the Maverick Curse.”
“We have really tight games with the Mavericks – we just haven’t been able to beat them,” said head coach Steve Kemp. “I don’t think we’d beaten them in 10 years, and there have been some really tight games. They’re a very well-coached team and they’ve seemed to have our number in the fourth quarter every time.
“It felt good to finally get that monkey off our back – to play a full 48 minutes and put one in the bag for us.”
After losing to the Mavericks 18-14 earlier this season, the Raiders stormed out of the gate in the Div. 2 championship game, taking a 28-7 lead into halftime. Receivers Blaise Newberry and Tristan Remus-Arevalo each caught a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Danny Skelton, while the Mavericks’ lone major came from running back Quintinn Beckley.
The explosive start differed from earlier fixtures – this season, according to Kemp, Airdrie has been a team that plays better in the second half of games.
“It’s been a focus of the last three weeks,” he said. “In practices, we’ve been working on starting right off the bat and getting into it.”
Despite the healthy lead, Airdrie faltered in the third quarter. The Raiders allowed Calgary to claw its way back into the game with two touchdowns from Hayden Church and a pair of safeties, reducing Airdrie’s lead to 28-26 as the teams went into the final frame.
“Usually, we’re a third-quarter team, but [the Mavericks] came out with a lot of energy in the third quarter and were able to get some momentum going,” Kemp said. “We struggled to find an answer for a bit, before we settled down and were able to find our groove.”
Calgary came close to winning the game in the final two minutes. After a drive brought the team to Airdrie’s 25-yard line, the Mavericks opted to go for a field goal, and the three-point kick from Luc Nolin was successful.
However, a 10-yard penalty for an illegal substitution was called, resulting in a second kick attempt, this time from the Raiders’ 35-yard line.
This time, Airdrie’s defence managed to blitz the holder on the snap, snuffing out the Mavericks’ kicker, who had scrambled to rescue the play by picking up the ball and running.
“We didn’t quit – we just kept going,” said Raiders defensive back Tadiwa Masoka. “We rushed it so much, and their [holder] just dropped it. We rushed it and got the tackle, so it was on us.”
Having regained possession, the Airdrie O-line managed to run down the clock on the ensuing drive. At the final whistle, the players on the bench stormed the field in celebration.
“I still can’t believe we won,” Masoka said. “It was a close game. That field goal, that was on us. That was all hustle.”
Raiders player Evan De Groot – who played the entire game, as he lined up for both the offence and defence – said the team was “jubilant” to win the Div. 2 championship.
“It was a hard victory,” he said. “We played our hearts out and left it all on the field.”