With key players returning from their championship team of 2017, and younger players ready to step into more prominent roles, the Clavet Cougars felt they had a chance to repeat as provincial champions at the beginning of the season.
That goal was accomplished on a snowy field in Wakaw as the Cougars defeated the host Warriors 56-34 in the 2A-Six Man Provincial Final on Saturday, November 10.
Wakaw started quickly as Cole Smith broke free for touchdown runs of 22 yards and 38 yards. Both convert attempts were unsuccessful, giving the home squad a 12-0 lead.
Clavet responded with a drive of their own that resulted in a one yard touchdown run by Ayden Cummins.
The Clavet defence forced a turnover on downs at mid-field that allowed Clavet to score as quarterback Koal Erixon hit receiver Connor Hathaway on a 50 yard pass and run play. Kicker Jordan Hangs nailed both converts giving the Cougars their first lead 16-12.
It looked like Cole Smith had given Wakaw back the lead as he returned Clavet’s kickoff the length of the field. The spectacular return was nullified as the Warriors were called on a blocking below the waist penalty. Smith would eventually score early in the second quarter on a short run and then in his role as kicker split the uprights to restore their lead.
On the resulting kickoff Ayden Cummins used his speed to eat up ground to cross the goal line. Unfortunately it was the Cougars’ turn to have a return called back on a penalty.
Undeterred, Erixon hit receiver Hunter Shmon with a long pass to Wakaw’s 30 yard line. The pivot then broke outside containment and scored on a quarterback keeper.
Wakaw completed a long pass of their own as Jack Bellefontaine scored on a 55 yard catch and run.
Erixon hit Ayden Cummins deep in Wakaw’s end and would then score on another quarterback keeper; this one a 20 yard run.
With less than a minute left in the half Wakaw regained the lead when Yari Kotelko took a screen pass on a third and one gamble and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
It looked very much like a game where whoever had the ball last was going to win. That was to change as the Cougars took advantage of the half-time intermission to make some adjustments.
Clavet coach Shaun Priel explained, “We knew it was going to be a challenge. They have some very good football players. We didn’t do a good job in the first half. If guys are thinking, they are slow.
“We did some adjustments. We put some guys in to be more aggressive and it made a bit of a difference. It was guys stepping up into holes and guys dropping out of holes. Colby Joyes was dropping off the line playing into a short passing situation as a linebacker. You put a big guy back there moving it makes things different as far as offence. You are forced to look at different things.”
The squad settled into playing championship calibre ball. They held the Warriors off the scoreboard, while getting three touchdown catches from three Grade 12 players.
The first came when Erixon hit Colby Joyes on a twenty yard touchdown strike. Joyes made a great over the shoulder catch in full stride as he broke behind the Warrior coverage.
Connor Hathaway would score his second touchdown of the game on a 23 yard grab.
Despite tight coverage by Warriors defender Adam Schlosser, receiver Hunter Shmon made a sure-handed grab in the end zone for the final score of the game.
Priel was very pleased with the effort everyone had put in to make the season a success.
“So proud of these kids. Had lots of adversity and they overcame it. There were contributions from so many guys. That is the difference of being good or being great. Our depth meant we ended up in a spot where we were able to play more solid ball on both sides.”