Two of Airdrie’s minor football teams kicked off their seasons Aug. 24, with the bantam Raiders and the peewee Storm playing their first games of 2019 in the Calgary Bantam Football Association and the Calgary Peewee Football Association (CPFA) at Shouldice Athletic Park in Calgary.
The season started on a losing note for both teams, as the Raiders fell 32-8 to the Calgary Stampeders and the Storm suffered a 30-6 setback against the Calgary Mavericks.
“We all did pretty good – we lost it a little bit, but we climbed back on top,” said Raiders linebacker Dawson Jensen. “It was a much closer game than [the scoreboard showed].”
Playing against last year’s provincial champion, the Raiders scored three touchdowns, but two were called back due to penalties.
First day of the fall football season for bantam and peewee teams in Calgary and area. The Airdrie (bantam) Raiders are down 24-0 to the Calgary Stampeders with 10 left in the 4th. The Airdrie Storm kick off their season at 11:00. pic.twitter.com/LsL55YhreD— Scott Strasser (@scottstrasser19) August 24, 2019
“We did really well, but we have to cut down on the mental mistakes,” said head coach Douglas Robertshaw. “On two plays we scored touchdowns, we had penalties that really had no effect on the play, so that really hurts.”
Airdrie’s lone major came late in the third quarter, when the team trailed 24-0. Receiver Tyson Heather caught a pass inside from 13-year-old quarterback Ben Klassen and scampered into the end zone to put the Raiders on the board.
According to Robertshaw, Klassen – who was playing his first game at the bantam level after moving up from the Storm – “took the reins” in the preseason.
“He came into our off-season workouts and was a leader,” he said. “He’s just one of those players who people respect on the team. They look at him and see him out on the field and even though he’s a first-year, he plays and acts like he’s in his second or even third year.”
Klassen is not the only young player on the Raiders’ roster this year. According to Robertshaw, about 60 per cent of the team is comprised of first-year bantam players.
“We have room to grow,” he said. “But once we get there, this is a very talented team.”
The Raiders returns to the gridiron Aug. 31 to face the Calgary Rebels. Kick-off is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Shouldice Athletic Park.
The Storm’s game was a similar affair, as the peewee side struggled to compete with a big and physical Mavericks team.
According to head coach Tyrell Rohl, the team was missing a handful of key players, including the team’s starting quarterback, two starting receivers and a few defensive stalwarts.
Calgary took advantage of the thinned-out lineup to take a 24-0 lead into halftime. Mavericks running back Devin Zhang scored two touchdowns and challenged the Storm’s defence nearly every time he received a hand-off.
The Airdrie side improved in the third quarter, particularly on defence, as the team’s D-line picked up several sacks to keep the Mavericks from scoring.
“Once the defence woke up in the second half, we got running,” Rohl said. “Jake Hertz, our starting linebacker and a returner from last year, is so good at motivating those guys and keeping them going. Once he got them fired up, away we went.”
Airdrie’s offence began to click, too. Tailback Quin Odai scored on a 50-yard play to register Airdrie’s sole touchdown, bringing the score to 24-6.
“He played on the atom team last year, and is another first-year peewee,” Rohl said. “He gave us a spark, all of a sudden.”
Despite Airdrie’s strong third quarter, Zhang scored his third touchdown for Calgary in the final frame to put the game to bed.
According to Rohl, the Storm graduated at least 27 players from last year’s team, which ended the season as runner-up in the CPFA Tier 1 division.
“You get those rebuild years, so that’s what we’re in,” he said. “But the goal is to win four games and make sure we’re in that Tier 1 playoff hunt.
“If we do our job throughout the season to coach these kids up, by the time playoffs roll around, we’ll be flying.”