Hunting Hills High School will have to clear some room in the trophy case for a pair of football trophies.
The high school’s Junior and Senior football teams swept to their respective league championship titles thanks to back-to-back wins during an all-day double header at Great Chief Park last Saturday.
The day kicked off at 11 a.m. with an inter-school grudge match between the Hunting Hills Jr. Lighting and the Lindsay Thurber Jr. Raiders for the Bantam league title.
The rivalry that exists between Lindsay Thurber and Hunting Hills is arguably the biggest in the league, and with the Tier II championship trophy and a berth in provincials on the line, the game promised to be a good one.
Nerves appeared to have set in for Hunting Hills, who were competing for their first Tier II Bantam league title since 2004. Their offense turned the ball over on a fumble on their first drive of the game. The Raiders took advantage of the opportunity and scored a touchdown to take an early 8-0 lead. (In Bantam football, a kicked conversion is worth two points.)
The Jr. Lightning responded quickly, though.
On the ensuing kickoff, Hunting Hills star running back Logan Clarkson received the ball on his own five-yard line. Clarkson then proceeded to run 95-yards and break three tackles on his way to the House to tie the game at eight.
From that point on the Jr. Lightning were dominant on both sides of the ball.
Their defense was solid, holding Thurber’s offense to just the one touchdown in the first half. They also forced two consecutive turnovers inside Thurber’s 30-yard-line late in the second quarter, which led to a pair of quick TDs for the Lightning.
“We just had a good scheme. We worked all week getting ready for Thurber and our kids bought in,” said Hunting Hills Head Coach Josh Sorensen after the game. This was Sorensen’s first championship as the coach of the Lightning.
That strong defensive showing, coupled with an offense that took advantage of the chances they were given, allowed the Lightning to take a 24 point lead into the second half. “We played with a lot of heart and we played really great, so I’m proud,” said quarterback Tristen Taylor, who ran for a pair of touchdowns and played a solid passing game to lead his team to the win.
The Lighting continued their strong showing at the start of the second half, adding another touchdown two minutes in. Thurber started showing signs of life, though, as they blocked the conversion kick to hold Hunting to just six points on the play. They would follow up that huge block with a touchdown of their own to draw a little closer.
It wouldn’t be enough, though. Each team added one more touchdown before the final buzzer to make it 46-24 in favour of Hunting Hills, who claimed their first Bantam league championship since 2004 and booked a trip to this year’s provincials.
“It was awesome. The kids just played unreal today. It was a team effort,” Sorensen said smiling.
The Jr. Lightning will face off against the Calgary Mavericks this Saturday at Great Chief Park for a provincial semi-final matchup. The winner of that game earns themselves a spot in the provincial final.
That set the stage for the main event – the Central Alberta High School Football final between the Hunting Hills Lightning and the Notre Dame High School Cougars.
The Lightning came into the game looking for their second consecutive City championship and their fourth Central Alberta League championship in five years.
Almost 600 people turned up to watch a Saturday afternoon tilt – the undefeated Hunting Hills Lightning and the underdog Notre Dame Cougars.
The game started off with a defensive battle for the ages. The teams held each other at bay throughout most of the first quarter, with plenty of turnovers coming from both sides.
Hunting Hills got into some penalty trouble early on, committing five defensive fouls on the first drive alone. The stalemate lasted right up until the final play of the first quarter, when Hunting Hills quarterback Eric Thompson threw a long-distance bomb down field and connected with receiver Zech Pilgrim who took the ball all the way to the end zone to give his team a seven point lead.
The Lightning’s defense was overpowering in the second and third quarters, not allowing a single point until the Cougars’ final drive of the game, despite some penalty troubles. They also caused Notre Dame’s offense to concede a safety late in the second quarter to give their team a nine point lead.
The defense held the Raiders to a single touchdown to help secure the victory. “I think we held their run in pretty good. They’ve got two great running backs and they used them both and I think we held them in check,” said Head Coach Kyle Sedgewick after the game.
The Lightning’s offense added a pair of touchdowns and a couple of field goals to bring the final score to 29-7.
Victory came at a cost, though, as Hunting Hills starting quarterback Thompson went down with a potentially season-ending injury in the fourth quarter, leaving the team without a starter going into their provincial semi-final game next Saturday.
In the end, though, the team managed to hold on and claim their second consecutive Central Alberta High School Football championship.
Next up for the Lightning is a Tier II regional semi-final matchup against the St. Mary’s Saints at Stampeder Field in Calgary on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.