A young, inexperienced Notre Dame Cougar Football team gave a veteran-laden Lacombe Rams team a fight in the first half before Lacombe showed their skill – pulling away in the second half to a 42-17 win on Thursday night.
The first half was punctuated by a 70-yard touchdown run by Notre Dame back Josh Burke. The Cougars were looking to go into the half up 10-0, however, a late turnover led to a 22-yard field goal the Rams. The late score opened the doors for the Rams in the second half, with Lacombe firing off 39 points in the second half.
Rams QB Johnny Ericson threw for 119 yards and the offence combined for 181 total yards. Cougar pivots Tristan Taylor and Grant Claerhout threw for 66 yards and the Notre Dame offence combined for 197 total yards.
Ericson felt the Rams came out and played the way they needed to.
“We stuck to the basics,” he said. “We took what we got and marched down the field. We came together as a team. We were confident. I knew what we had and I was confident in my teammates. I knew we would come together once the lights started shining.
“I have the utmost confidence in this team. We have the talent to make it all the way as long as we work as a team.”
Rams’ Coach Jason Petrie was pleased with what he saw in the second half.
“John Ericson – what can you say? He is the best quarterback in the province,” he said, adding that, despite being down in the first half, the Rams remained confident.
“If you watch our first three offensive series – we were executing fairly well,” Petrie said. “We had some critical penalties at critical times. We had to make a few adjustments at halftime. Our staff picked apart what we needed to fix. We came out and drove the ball in our two first possessions of the second half. We took control of the game.”
Petrie added Lacombe has ways to go before they can fully capitalize on their skill.
“We have a lot of things to work on. We are not there yet by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something to build on,” he said.
The Cougars, who were Central Alberta league champions last year but lost the majority of their core, remained in the game in the first half due to coaching, according to Petrie.
“They are well coached,” Petrie said. “Gino (Castellan) is a stalwart in Alberta football and he coaches his kids well. We watched them play last week. We had the luxury of them playing on this field last week when they played on this field last week. We scouted them and they didn’t do anything we weren’t expecting.
“They were a top-tier team in the province, so when you have that sort of turnover – you have to expect some peaks and valleys. They are going to get way better and so are we.”
Castellan understands the Cougars have some growing to do this season but sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are young and inexperienced, but it’s like what I told the kids – we could go 0-6 and then peak at the right time and then be there,” he said. “We will play bad; we will play good and then we will see what happens once we start progressing towards being a better team. That will happen.”
Notre Dame had some issues utilizing their throwing game, something Castellan didn’t expect.
“Our offensive line is pretty good, but they didn’t show it today,” he said. “That will come and our passing game will come. We aren’t going to quit. Our coaching staff is a good staff and we are going to work with the kids. We are going to get better.”
Getting more game experience is crucial for the Cougars development this season.
“To play in practice and then play in a full game is two different things,” he said. “The speed is different and the calibre is different.”
One thing Castellan hopes is immediately fixed is the penalty issue, with Notre Dame losing 116 yards to the whistle.
“I am disappointed in some of our vets getting stupid penalties,” he said. “That hurt us, but Lacombe is a good team – they are better than us now, but we will see six weeks from now.”