Just two points kept the Airdrie Raiders out of the Calgary Spring Football Association (CSFA) final on May 26, as the midget (U17) football team lost 15-13 to the Calgary Cowboys for a berth in their league's championship game.
With a touchdown in the final minute of the semi-final game, the Raiders came close to staging an epic comeback at Shouldice Athletic Park, but ultimately fell just short as they were still trailing by two points when the clock ticked down to zero.
“There was definitely some heartbreak for the senior guys who have been around and are five-year Raiders,” said Steve Kemp, the team's head coach. “They wanted to be that team and that group that pushed it over the hump.”
While Airdrie beat the Cowboys earlier this season 14-3, it was a different outcome this time around, as the Calgarians reversed their fortunes to come out on top.
The Raiders took some time to get going against the Cowboys, according to Kemp. In a play that would later come back to bite them, the Airdronians conceded a two-point safety in the first quarter.
A touchdown toward the end of the first half kept Airdrie in the contest, but they trailed again shortly afterward as the Cowboys added a second TD to extend their lead to 15-6.
However, the Raiders kept their chance of a dramatic comeback alive thanks to a late TD in the fourth quarter that brought the score to 15-12. Airdrie's one-point convert was good, which meant the Raiders needed just a field goal to win the game.
With time running out, Kemp said the coaches' plan was to try and retrieve the ball as quickly as possible via an onside kick and then get it into a viable field-goal position.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys knew what was coming and they were able to snuff the play out.
“We were trying for an onside kick and then if we’d gotten that, the plan was to move the ball into field goal range and try the kick,” Kemp said. “But we were unsuccessful in our onside kick...the Cowboys are well-coached and they adjusted well.
“It was a typical game between us and the Cowboys,” he added. “It’s always a tight match-up. Once again, our defence played well. We were missing some bodies, some guys who were out sick and injured, but they adjusted and played well.”
As a result of the loss, the Raiders' 2023 season came to a close one game earlier than they would have liked. The Cowboys advanced to the CSFA final on June 1, where they played the Calgary Wildcats.
Having made it to the CSFA final last year, Kemp said going out one step earlier than that this year was a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s always hard as a coach – you even get a little emotional watching them,” Kemp said. “They put so much into it, so much heart and dedication. You want them to accomplish their goals. But they fought hard right down to the last whistle and never quit. I couldn’t ask for much more and couldn’t be more proud of them.”
According to Kemp, roughly 15 to 20 players will be graduating from the U17 age group this season, which bodes well for the Raiders' rebuild in 2024.
“Our Grade 10 class this year – that’s going to be a big wave,” he said.