The St. Albert 49ers are flying high after winning the Bantam Tier 1 championship in the Capital District Minor Football League on Sunday.
The 49ers took the league crown with a hard-fought 41-36 victory over the West Edmonton Raiders on Nov. 7 at JP Sports Park.
The championship makes the 49ers the first St. Albert Minor Football Association Bantam team to take home a Tier 1 title.
The game was an instant classic. The teams traded chances all night long as the Raiders jumped out to an early 22-7 lead before the 49ers fought back.
St. Albert head coach, Martin Quirk says his team never quit despite being down early.
“We battled back at halftime; we were down 22-20 after a failed two-point attempt to tie it,” said Quirk. “We came out in the second half and we scored to go up 27-22.”
The Raiders didn’t relent either, and only a few points separated the teams late in the game. But as the time slipped off the clock, the 49ers shut down a pair of desperation Hail Mary passes by the Raiders with 16 seconds left to clinch the title.
The 49ers got exceptional performances on both sides of the ball. Arlen Gray, Ty Kohut, and Preston Wideman led the charge on offence, while Darius Crandell, Elijah Thomas, and Hudson Enjeneski were walls for the defence.
The championship has been a long time coming for this group. This is the fourth year they have played together and the year-to-year growth is stunning, from a winless 0-8 record in their first year to the league title in their fourth year.
Quirk says this is the last year of minor football for most of the team.
“Ninety per cent of the team is 14-year-olds, so they’re all going to high school next year,” said Quirk. “I told them that they get to choose their destiny.”
As for the celebration on the field, Quirk says it was an emotional time for everyone involved and that he couldn’t be more proud.
“There was so much excitement and joy... it was a whirlwind,” said Quirk. “Everyone was so happy and everyone stormed to the field to high-five and hug our defence, so it was a really great moment for the team and everyone involved.”
The team isn't quite ready to hang up the cleats just yet, however.
The 49ers won’t have much time to relish the victory as they look to turn their league success into provincial success. They open up their provincial tournament this weekend against the Calgary Cowboys.
Quirk says that the team enjoyed the victory over the Raiders but it's time to look forward again.
“We celebrated hard as a team and now we are back to business at practice,” said Quirk. “We’re focused on the Calgary Cowboys and are preparing for them on Saturday.”
The 49ers will be on the road for their provincial semifinal as they head to Calgary to try to continue their winning ways.