The Central Alberta Buccaneers entered the first round of the playoffs on Saturday, Aug. 22, when they kicked off against the Edmonton Stallions. During the regular season, the Bucs edged the Stallions in a close 20-14 battle; this game would be no different.
During the week’s practices leading up to the game, the Bucs knew they would face adversity. Three team captains were unable to attend the game and the team faced the departure of other key personnel. Despite these setbacks, the Bucs were determined: “I’m proud of the way we handle adversity on this team. No matter what curveball gets thrown in the way, we have rallied when needed,” said quarterback Jarrett Bursuk. Bursuk stepped into the starting role when the original starter became unavailable for the game, another moment that tested the Bucs resilience. But, Bursuk rose to the occasion. He made key, drive-extending plays, including a creative bootleg-pass that found Axsivier Lawrence deep down field. Lawrence praised the gutsy performance of Bursuk, saying that he “followed the game plan to a tee and only had one incomplete pass.”
In the first half of the game, the Bucs and Stallions traded touchdowns back and forth. While the Bucs defense brought pressure on the pony QB, his receivers made opportunistic catches. Despite a few goal line stops, the pirate D gave up two touchdowns and a field goal. The Bucs offense responded however, utilizing both running and passing plays. The score was 14-17 at the half.
The second half was a game of defensive attrition. The ball was punted often by both teams, causing a battle for field position. Eventually, the Bucs would drive close enough to the Stallion endzone for the field goal unit to take formation. They tied the game in the third at 17-17. With a minute left, Tylor Johnson would split the uprights for the game winning field goal, making the score 20-17 and, as a result, earning the Bucs a semi-finals berth.
The Bucs got a helping hand from the audience during the game. Lead by Bucs-announcer, Kelly McCheyne, the bleachers were often chanting and cheering, urging the Bucs to victory. “Our fans always give us a little bit of an edge when it comes down to close games; they’re always cheering us on and giving us full support,” said Lawrence. “We have the whole community backing us and that’s relieving to know as we move forward in the playoffs,” said Bursuk.
The Bucs are on the road in order to take on the #2 seeded Fort McMurray Monarchs. During regular season, the Monarchs handed the Bucs one of their two losses for the season. Defensive lineman Tony Dawson predicts the game will be a “dog fight. They are a great team. But if we come together as a unit, I like our chances.” If the Bucs are able to top the Monarchs, it will be the first time in franchise history for the pirates to advance to finals.