It’s the game the Central Alberta Buccaneers have been building for all season.
After dropping their season opener 32-10 on the road to the Ft. McMurray Monarchs back on June 2, the Bucs (6-1) welcome the Monarchs (7-0) to Great Chief Park for the highly-anticipated rematch, and likely Alberta Football League championship game preview, this Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Buccaneers have rattled off six straight victories since that loss. They’ve been comfortable wins, too, by an average margin of more than 50 points (367 points for, 65 against).
This week, though, the Bucs know it’ll be a much different game.
“Certainly the lack of competition has been less than desirable. However, that would hold true for both the Buccaneers and the Monarchs,” says Bucs head coach Fred Knip.
Ft. McMurray has outscored their opponents 458-33 this season and are riding a rock solid four-game shutout streak.
“The last tough game they played was the last tough game we played," Knip surmised. "I think it is going to come down to several other factors. We are family and a band of brothers that have practiced, worked community events and played together all season. We have a unity on the team that may help us when it comes to crunch time.”
LISTEN: Buccaneers lineman Vince Roth previews Saturday's game on Drive Mornings
Knip says the Buccaneers learned some valuable lessons during their previous battle with the Monarchs.
“We learned that they played the long pass while we had difficulty completing passes over 20 yards,” he noted. “However, we were incredibly effective with passes 20 yards and less. We kept the momentum when we played the short game.”
In evaluating his team’s six-game winning streak, Knip says he’s pleased with what he’s seen on both side of the ball.
“We have an incredible defense. [Defensive Coordinator] Devon Hand is a master tactician and we have been able to limit opposition teams in scoring. Also, our offense line has been able to give the league’s best quarterback a lot of time to find open receivers. The combination of Brandon Leyh at quarterback and a block-buster O-line has given us a lot of power on offence.”
Leyh completed 57.5 per cent of his passes vs. Ft. McMurray in week one for 327 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Overall, he’s compiled another MVP-worthy season with 1,631 passing yards, 72.3 per cent completion percentage, 22 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in just five starts.
Receivers Ben Hnatiuk, Josh Blanchard and Preston Bailey currently sit first, third and fourth in league receiving yards, respectively.
The Buccaneers have lived and died through the air this season, averaging just 57 rushing yards per game.
Aside from Lawrence, the Bucs are pretty healthy heading into Saturday’s tilt and Knip is anticipating having a full roster available.
The Buccaneers need to defeat the Monarchs by 23 points in order to overtake them for first place in the AFL standings and home field advantage for playoffs, thereby avoiding another long trip north to Ft. McMurray.
Donations to the Red Deer Food Bank will be accepted at Saturday’s game.
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