Stars lose their lustre
Alberta Football League team drops season-opener to Calgary Gators in rematch of last year's final
Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Stars are pointing fingers at themselves for Saturday’s error-filled loss to the defending Alberta Football League champions.
The 19-10 mishap against the Calgary Gators at Riel Recreation Park was also the season opener for both teams.
“Everyone got a little too excited and we started shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Troy Pappas, quarterback and co-owner of the Stars. “We gave them that game. Penalties. We had a couple of bad throws. A couple of dropped interceptions. Miscues. Missed blocks. It was just our mistakes.”
Last year the undefeated Gators downed the Stars 17-12 in the last game before the playoffs and 41-16 in the AFL final.
“There is no doubt we can play with them. We were short a few of our starters today defensively and offensively but when we’re clicking that’s a game we win,” Pappas said. “It’s disappointing we lost today but if we’re going to lose I would rather lose the first one than the last one.”
The Stars were over the moon when the AFL schedule was released and the Gators were first on the bingo card.
“I know we’ve had them circled all year and they’ve had us circled all year,” Pappas said. “We’re expecting it’s going to be us two again in the championship. I know the Gators think they’re going to get there again and take it and we’re trying to make a point that they’re not but today we just couldn’t get it done.”
The Gators downplayed the importance of the lid-lifter.
“It was just another game. It wasn’t a rematch for us,” said quarterback Liam Greaney. “It was a fresh start and a new season. We really wanted to set the tone and get the jitters out. We have new pieces we’re adding in and we want to build on that.”
The Gators also struggled at times.
“It was rocky on both sides getting back into it. The first game is always kind of a learning experience for both squads to see where the new guys fit in,” said Greaney, who attended Neil M. Ross Catholic Elementary School in St. Albert. “It was a good test but we could’ve put more points up by our offence to give our defence a break.”
The Gators led 2-0 after the first quarter on a safety and 15-7 at halftime. The third quarter was scoreless.
After a 29-yard field goal by Korey Johnson with 8:29 to play pulled the Stars to within seven at 17-10 the Gators recorded a pair of singles in the last five minutes.
“Our defence was really strong once again. They’re a big part of our team playing strong and keeping us in games and we were able to do that,” Greaney said.
In the first half both teams combined for more penalties than first downs and the flag-fest continued in the second half but with less frequency.
In the second quarter, after Manny Gordon caught a short pass and turned it into a 43-yard gain down the sideline to the Calgary 33, the Gators were penalized on a series of plays, including a late hit on Gordon that sent the running back to the bench for the rest of the half to recover.
After play resumed, on second and goal from the two, Clayton Swereda cracked the goal line and Johnson kicked the covert to make it 7-2 with 10:14 left in the half.
In the third quarter, and the Stars looking at second and four from their 18, Pappas threaded the needle to Tyler Wilson. After spinning away from a defender, Wilson dashed down the field for an 84-yard reception. However, an offside penalty wiped out the gain.
“Every time we would come out there in a situation where everything started clicking and looking good we would make a penalty,” Pappas said. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm today and when we did we just gave it gave it right back to them.”
The Stars escaped the opening 15 minutes down by only two after Mike Mawusi intercepted an overthrown ball by Greaney around the 20 and returned it to the St. Albert 40 with 1:23 to go before quarter time.
Penalties plagued both teams during a drive by the Gators from their 44 that ended with a field goal from inside the 20 with 2:34 to go before the break.
On the Gators’ next possession Greaney fired a bullet down the pipe to a wide-open receiver for a 38-yard TD with 67 ticks on the clock to cap off a drive from midfield. The conversion was good.
The Gators closed out the first half with a field goal from around the 25 to lead by eight.
Late in the third quarter the Stars stopped the Gators on third and six at the St. Albert 26.
Early in the fourth quarter, and the wind at their backs, the Gators settled for a point off a missed field goal from around the 20 to widen the gap to 16-7.
Leading up to the field goal Terrik Carter shanked a punt before quarter time to give the Gators the ball at the St. Albert 30.
A punt single by the Gators was followed by Johnson’s field goal.
After the Gators kicked another single to make it 18-10, Pappas’ sideline pass to Gordon was picked off by the cornerback with an over the shoulder grab in front of the Stars’ bench and the ball was returned for good yardage. The Gators eventually collected another point off a field goal from in front of the 40 with 2:15 remaining.
“We made some adjustments and that allowed ourselves to get better as we continued,” Greaney said.
Pappas, 29, described the loss as “a good wakeup call.”
“We have a ton of mistakes to fix up and the best way to learn is to make a mistake,” said the high school football product of the Bellerose Bulldogs and St. Albert High Skyhawks.
Expectations are high for the Stars after finishing their inaugural AFL season at 6-4 while falling one win short of going to the Canadian Major Football League final.
“We’ve progressed from last season. We’ve got some better players all around. We’ve got more depth. People are staying fresh on special teams so I think we’re better,” Pappas said.
The Gators are also retooling after losing the 16th annual CMFL final to the National Football Conference champion Montreal Transit 50-28 in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec.
“We made nationals last year but we didn’t do as well as we expected,” Greaney said. “Our defence has changed quite a bit. We moved some guys from different positions to start at new ones, with injuries and stuff like that.
“Offensively we have a lot of the same guys but we’ve got a new offensive coordinator so we’ve been learning a new offence and getting used to actually having someone out there to call the plays.”
Greaney, 24, felt the score was misleading against Montreal.
“They have a lot of athletes on their team but at the end of the day it was more for us being able to execute and we weren’t doing that. We had a lot of guys who played really well but it was just small things. Special teams was a big problem for us out there and I know that was something that won us the league last year,” said the London, Ont. high school product who took a stab at playing for the Alberta Golden Bears. “I honestly think with the right schemes and the right players in place there is really no difference between the two squads.”
The Stars huddle up this Saturday against the Edmonton Stallions at 6 p.m. in St. Albert.