Clarke Park – The St. Albert 49ers refused to lose with their season hanging in the balance in Saturday’s playoff.
The 49ers buckled down to score 21 unanswered points after the Edmonton Mustangs went ahead by 14 early in the second half. The half opened with the Mustangs recovering a fumble in the backfield on the 49ers’ first play from scrimmage at the St. Albert 23. The Mustangs returned the ball all the way to the endzone and converted the touchdown.
“It was really exciting. It was a great comeback,” said Ty Beck, a Grade 9 tailback and linebacker, after the 21-14 win in the bantam Tier 3 semifinal in the Capital District Minor Football Association.
There was no quit in the 49ers despite the odds stacked against them in the cold and wind.
“It was really important to us and to the team and all the fans out there for us to carry on and that’s what really made us drive forward and finish the second half,” said Julian Pawlychka, a Grade 9 rush end and offensive guard.
The 49ers would go on to score TDs of one yard by quarterback Brendan Guy and Corbin Stewart’s game-tying 64-yard catch and run in the third quarter. Stewart also caught a two-point conversion pass from Guy after the first TD and on the second TD an illegal procedure flag against the 49ers on Roberto Parrotta’s successful point after attempt forced a re-kick, which was no good.
The game-winning point was Parrotta’s wind-aided 35-yard field goal try with 6:56 remaining. The kick was short and the ball bounced into the endzone where the returner was tackled.
The field goal was set up by a fumble recovery by the 49ers at the St. Albert 49. An 18-yard catch and run by Zach Dreger and a key third and four run by Beck to the Mustangs’ 25 set the stage for Parrotta’s attempt.
On the second last play of the game, Beck reeled in a Guy pass and galloped 47 yards into the endzone with 1.2 seconds on the clock.
“What really picked it up for us was that feeling of being down. When you’re that low, it really makes you want to do better and drive yourself forward,” Pawlychka said.
In the first half the 49ers struggled moving the ball and either fumbled it away or turned it over on downs.
The Mustangs opened the scoring with a 15-yard TD with 4:48 to go until the break after stopping the 49ers on third down at the St. Albert 22. The convert was no good, but the Mustangs made it 7-0 with a single point on the ensuing kickoff with the wind.
“We were doing pretty bad in the first half. We weren’t ourselves,” Beck said. “We didn’t really want it as much as they did. We didn’t play with our heads, mentally and physically. Coaches told us to get our heads into the game so we went out and did pretty good. We had lots of second effort stuff and once we got that first touchdown we didn’t stop.”
Guy was also under heavy pressure as the 49ers tried to balance out a productive ground game with an aggressive passing attack.
Guy was 11-for-19 passing for 220 yards. Stewart was his main target, catching six balls for 128 yards. Dreger and Connor Florence also grabbed two passes apiece for 45 and 10 yards, respectively.
Beck, 14, racked up 140 yards on 16 carries. The Morinville Community High School student was especially strong in the second half against a wilting Mustangs’ defence.
It was Beck’s first game since dislocating an elbow and breaking a bone in his arm on his second carry of the game in the 21-0 season-opening victory over the St. Albert Fury.
Naiem Qadiri added 29 yards on four carries for the 49ers, who turned the ball over on downs six times and coughed up four fumbles.
“It was really the blocking that turned it around for us. It wasn’t doing too good and our throws weren’t as accurate but we really picked that up in the second half,” said Pawlychka, 14.
The 49ers will now play the Fort Saskatchewan Lightning in Saturday’s final at 12:30 p.m. at Johnny Bright Bowl. Admission is $5.
The Lightning blew away the Fury 34-0 in Saturday’s semifinal at Clarke Park.
The Lightning and 49ers finished league play with identical 5-1 records.
With first place on the line, the Lightning knocking off the 49ers 36-23 on Oct. 6 in St. Albert. The 49ers trailed 14-7 at halftime and 22-7 after three quarters.
“We never really brought our whole game that game. If we did we would’ve had a better chance,” said Pawlychka, a Richard S. Fowler student.
The winner will huddle up against the Wheatland champion in the Nov. 10 north final for the right to play in the Nov. 17 provincial final.