OLDS — The Olds Bantam Bulldogs are provincial 9-A champions for the second year in a row.
They obtained that title after downing the Claresholm Cobras 26-23 on Saturday, Nov. 11 in Lethbridge.
The Bulldogs won the provincial crown in that city last year as well.
Bulldogs head coach Matt Sutherland says the Bulldogs won the game in the very last seconds as quarterback Aidan Knobben threw an approximately 20-yard pass to wide receiver Gabe Drent who ran the ball into the end zone, despite nearly being tackled.
He said the Cobras scored a touchdown with about two minutes left in the game, then tried to run out the clock.
However, that strategy failed when the Bulldogs stopped them on about the Claresholm 45 yard line. A time count violation penalty on the Cobras was also a factor.
At that point, there were about 30 seconds left in the game.
The Bulldogs ran a running play, but got “stuffed,” Sutherland said.
That led to the big pass with just a handful of seconds left on the clock.
"He aired it out and receiver was behind coverage and caught it and we scored,” Sutherland said during an interview with the Albertan.
Those last few seconds and that desperate pass were pretty stressful, Sutherland admitted.
“It was kind of cover your eyes and hope for the best,” he said.
It was sunny and pretty warm for November, but really windy. In fact, a wind warning was issued.
That was a factor for both teams, so the emphasis was mostly on running and short passes.
“It was just persevering through it,” Sutherland said. “It was a tough game to win.”
“They fought hard, we fought very hard.”
The Cobras had some big boys on both sides of the ball. Their running game was pretty effective, as was their defence.
“We were getting pretty frustrated with our offence not being able to do too much. We got shot down,” Sutherland said.
“They were very quick to swarm the quarterback, so for both sides it was it was just keeping their head in the game and persevering through it.
“We had some good runs, but it was we had trouble building consistency.”
“We kept pushing through.”
One key factor for the Bulldogs was the kick return team which ran a punt back for a touchdown.
Sutherland is proud of the Bulldogs and the effort they put in all season. He noted they went undefeated.
“It was a whole team thing all season,” he said. “Everybody's done their jobs and it's been an awesome team effort, a team game.
“We played our game all the way through, and they stuck to it and I had a lot of grit. It was a nailbiter.”
Sutherland loses a lot of kids to high school next season; he figures 16 or so, roughly half the current team.
“I try to avoid counting that because it's kind of depressing,” he said jokingly.
He agreed that would put him in the same position that peewee Huskies head coach Dennis Yurchevich was in this season; dealing with a lot of rookies.
“I mean, that's what happens every year, right,” Sutherland said. “You get the guys that age out and go to the next level and it's awesome to see them (do that).
“It's been amazing seeing them develop over the year and then (gain) those skills and the attitude, the love of the game.
“If they decide to keep going, that's all we hope for. And if not, then they had an awesome, awesome season; undefeated again.
“One on the road for the league championship and one on the road for the for the provincials again.”
Sutherland praised his coaching staff.
“They’ve got all the football knowledge and the and (know) the technical stuff and I would have them back in a heartbeat,” he said.
He said it’s too early to know if all of them will be back for next season. He noted a couple of them are students.
Sutherland said the game was so momentous and such a thriller that it’s still hard to process the fact that the Bulldogs are provincial champs again.
“I know for me it was a lot the last couple of days and it’s still sinking in,” he said.