Stars fade away
Alberta Football League team is 2-4 with one game remaining before the playoffs kick off
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Stars will kick off the Alberta Football League playoffs on the road after suffering their fourth loss in six games this season.
Saturday’s 13-3 setback to the Grande Prairie Drillers (4-2) at Riel Recreation Park sealed the team’s fate with one game remaining before the playoffs start Aug. 16.
“This was kind of a don’t travel game if we won so now we’ll be travelling,” said defensive back Erik Kyler.
The Stars hold down the sixth and final playoff berth in the eight-team standings and their Aug. 9 result against the Central Alberta Buccaneers (3-3), a team the St. Albert squad defeated 26-12 in the preseason, will determine if they will huddle up against the Drillers (4-2) or the first-year Fort McMurray Monarchs (3-3) in the opening round. Game time is 2 p.m. in St. Albert.
The defending champion Calgary Gators (6-0) and the Calgary Wolfpack (5-1) have secured first-round byes.
Last year in their inaugural AFL campaign the Stars finished 6-4 overall after losing the championship game 41-16 to the undefeated Gators.
“I expected way more out of this season after last year. Honestly, it’s been a weak season as far as I’m concerned as a full football team. Our specials and our offence and even our defence has had bad games,” Kyler said.
After beating the winless Lloydminster Vandals 35-14 in the Border City to stop a two-game losing skid, the Stars struggled mightily on offence against the Drillers.
“Our defence played way better today than we did in Lloyd but they’re a weaker team and our offence was able to capitalize on some stuff that wouldn’t have happened here today,” Kyler said.
The Stars picked off three passes – one by Kyler and two spectacular acts of thievery by newcomer Mike Chayka – Freddy Guay recovered a fumble, Augusto De Oliveira had a sack-forced fumble and Korey Johnson recorded seven solo tackles.
“We definitely stepped it up defensively from last week. There were areas where we were not so strong that we improved upon, it was just that things went the way they did,” said Chayka, a ball hawk at safety with three picks in two games since joining the Stars.
It was 3-0 Drillers after the first quarter as the Stars gave up a safety in punt formation and the visitors settled for a point off a missed 22-yard field goal.
In the opening minute of the second quarter the Drillers booted a 17-yard field goal and the 6-0 lead stayed intact as the first half drew to a close.
Johnson’s 26-yard field goal with 3:10 gone in the third quarter accounted for all the points the Stars put on the board.
In the fourth quarter the Drillers padded their lead with a point off a 22-yard field goal and with 33 seconds remaining they cracked the goal line on a quarterback sneak from one yard out to cap off a 52-yard drive that started with the Stars turning the ball over on downs with 2:20 left to play.
“Both teams definitely came to play. They were throwing the ball a lot and we were running the ball a lot. At the end they just put more points up than we did,” Chayka said. “It was definitely a combination of everything today that led to the loss. I really don’t want to blame the reffing (over the parade of penalties by the Stars) but at the end of the day the team that scores more points wins the game and we’ve just got to get the ball into the endzone.”
A boring offensive attack by the Stars moved the chains in spurts but a lack of consistency and dreadful turnovers put more pressure on the team’s stalwart defence to stay within striking distance of the Drillers.
Craig Carr, a former CFL running back, carried the ball 16 times for 70 yards and Kurt Tonowski gained 35 yards on five handoffs.
The most exciting play from scrimmage was Manny (Flash) Gordon’s acrobatic 17-yard reception at the Drillers’ 18, which led to Johnson’s field goal. Gordon was injured on the play after putting his body on the line to haul in a high pass from quarterback Troy Pappas and stayed on the sideline for the rest of the contest.
Johnson’s opening kickoff, an on-side attempt that travelled barely 11 yards before the team’s most valuable player jumped on it, was another highlight, albeit on special teams.
Kyler, 27, is frustrated over the offensive woes.
“We’ve got to get the offence out to practice and start gelling. Three points is not enough,” said the team’s defensive MVP last year with seven interceptions and three six-picks. “We’re getting guys to practices and basically the defence is practicing and the O isn’t. It’s disheartening for our defence. We held our ground pretty good today.”
The Stars’ secondary was outstanding against the Drillers. Kyler’s second pick of the season deep in St. Albert territory kept the score at 6-0 with under six minutes left until halftime. The first of Chayka’s two picks was a great individual effort to leap in front of the receiver who was covered like a blanket near midfield in the third quarter and the Drillers went up 6-3. His second pick was a nifty over-the-shoulder catch on an overthrown ball near the Stars’ 15-yard line.
“Our pass defence was something we focused on more during the week of practice. We definitely locked down better than last week (against the Vandals),” said Chayka, 24, who also had a couple of balls slip through his hands on potential interceptions.
He discovered the Stars by accident one day.
“I was leaving the gym and I saw them practicing so I decided to walk over and find out what they were all about,” said the former Vancouver Trojan and McGill Redmen player who hails from Burnaby, B.C.