Getting back to winning ways after a demoralizing defeat the week before, the Airdrie Raiders midget (U17) football team punched their ticket to the 2023 Calgary Spring Football Association (CSFA) playoffs in positive fashion on May 12, producing a 14-3 victory over the Calgary Cowboys at Shouldice Athletic Park.
A week after their first loss of the season – a 43-13 defeat to the Calgary Wildcats – the Raiders responded well to overcome the Cowboys. Airdrie produced a two-touchdown performance, while the defence managed to keep the Cowboys out of their end zone for the duration of the contest.
“Both our team and their team are known for our defence, and they are very well coached on defence,” said the Raiders' head coach, Steve Kemp. “They make adjustments really quick. We were running a bit short in some positions with injuries on offence, but I thought all things considered, our guys did really well. Our defence, once again, played fantastic.”
Tyrell Hofland scored Airdrie's first touchdown on their final play of the first quarter, capping off a positive drive for the team. The TD came after Hofland caught a pinpoint pass just a step or two outside the end zone.
Kendrid Price helped double the Raiders' points total later in the game on a fumble recovery that saw him gallop into the Cowboys' end zone.
Defensively, the Airdronians limited the Cowboys to just a single field goal in the second quarter.
According to Kemp, the win was noteworthy because the Raiders have historically struggled to compete with the Cowboys in recent years.
“It’s actually the first time we’ve beaten the Cowboys in spring in nine or 10 years, so to beat them and respond to a loss like [the one against the Wildcats] was good,” he said.
The win capped off the Raiders' regular season, and they will now set their sights on the upcoming CSFA playoffs. Airdrie concluded the 2023 campaign with a 5-1 record, guaranteeing them second place in the league standings.
The Airdrie team's only loss came on May 5 when they fell to the Wildcats. The Wildcats are the CSFA's most dominant team this season, currently boasting a 5-0 record, with a points-differential of +166.
While it was disappointing to lose to the Wildcats, Kemp said he was impressed by the response shown by the Raiders' players at their ensuing practices, and said that effort culminated with an improved showing when they returned to Shouldice Park on May 12.
“I was wondering how our team would respond, and all week it was probably our best week of practices,” he said. “The focus level and compete level were great.
“I wouldn’t say our loss to the Wildcats was a question of effort, it was more that we weren’t playing a team game. We had guys trying to do other people’s job and not trusting each other. This week, they focused on that and the team game was much better.”
Now that their regular season is complete, Kemp said the Raiders will start to put a game plan together for the CSFA post-season, which gets underway at the end of May. With a bye this week, he said the team has two weeks to prepare for their first playoff opponent, who will be either the Cowboys again, or the Calgary Mavericks.
Airdrie's head coach noted the intensity always ramps up during the playoffs, and it will be up to the Raiders to match or set the tempo.
“It all goes up. “The coaching gets more intense, the players get more intense. You might see more substitutions throughout the game in playoffs. A lot of teams run their horses and you’ll see teams – not so much us, but other teams – playing more guys both ways.
“But yeah, it ramps up to a different level. Usually, the teams that are left are very well prepared for every game.”
The Raiders' first playoff game will be held at Shouldice Athletic Park in northwest Calgary on May 26, with kick-off set for 8:30 p.m. at Hellard Field.
For scores, schedules, and other info on the CSFA, visit site1451.goalline.ca