So close, but no cigar.
That was the story for the Red Deer Buccaneers this weekend, as they fell 55-49 to the Grande Prairie Drillers in their first playoff appearance in five years.
Despite hanging up the cleats for the final time this season, the Buccaneers have a lot to look forward next season.
Quarterback Josh Achtemichuk posted another fine season, completing 14 of 22 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s game in Northern Alberta.
And then there’s all star running back Kenton Poelzer, who spent most of the regular season on the shelf.
In the final game of the season, Poelzer looked like the guy the Buccaneers were missing all season, carrying the ball 27 times (a team record) for 302 yards and two touchdowns.
Imagine the record the 2-5 Buccaneers could have put together had Poelzer not suffered a hamstring injury in a season opening loss to the Drillers.
It should be noted that Poelzer added four catches for 103 yards on Saturday, giving him 405 all purpose yards.
Co-coaches Kyle Sedgwick and Tim Burris should be given a lot of credit for taking this team from a cellar dweller in the Alberta Football League standings to one that came within a half of advancing to the league semi-finals.
Just about every time I talked to Sedgwick or Burris this season, there were a couple of messages they continually hammered on.
The team needed to improve their conditioning and they needed to sharpen their football IQ.
The conditioning issue was one the coaches worked on all season, and the results were visible as the Buccaneers proved they were no longer a team that just didn’t have any gas left in the tank when the fourth quarter came calling.
The football IQ issue took a little longer to get a handle on, with both Sedgwick and Burris admitting that that wasn’t something that was going to change overnight.
As the season progressed though, you could see the guys on the field making smarter decisions, trusting their teammates a bit more, and generally becoming a better football team.
The results may not have always been there, but that’s going to happen sometimes when you strip a football club to its foundation and start the learning process all over again.
And what did in the Buccaneers on Saturday was something that has plagued them all season and stuck in the minds of the coaching staff like a burr in a saddle.
It was their inability to close out an opponent when they have the chance.
More than a few times this season, Red Deer had the game in hand, only to watch it watch go the other way thanks to defensive miscues, missed opportunities or penalties.
It was the same story this past weekend.
The Buccaneers actually went into the intermission leading the Drillers 28-27, and they opened the second half with a very quick touchdown to take a 35-27 lead.
That, though, was when the wheels very quickly came off, as the Buccaneers missed a few tackles, blew a couple of assignments, and allowed Grande Prairie to score four unanswered touchdowns to regain the lead.
Despite a yeoman’s effort from the defense (defensive back Dave Hanni had five solo tackles and four assisted tackles, while linebacker Braden Doupe had four solos and six assists), the Buccaneers allowed the Drillers offense too much time and space in the second half.
But, as is the case with many sports team, before you can learn how to win, you have to learn how to overcome a loss.
And that’s what this offseason will be all about for the Buccaneers.
The light though, is visible at the end of the tunnel, and I fully expect Sedgwick and Burris, should they return, will have this club gunning for a top three finish next season, and maybe, just maybe, a longer post season.