May 25th, 2024

Looking to keep howling

By Dale Woodard on October 22, 2021.

For Reese Walper, it’s simply good to be back for a final season of high school football.

The goal now for the Grade 12 defensive back for the Chinook Coyotes is to keep it going.

Walper and the Coyotes will get that chance today as Chinook hits the gridiron against the Catholic Central Cougars in the Southern Alberta High School Football League Tier II playoff at 5 p.m. at the University of Lethbridge Stadium.

The winner will advance to face the Cardston Cougars in the Tier II final next week in Cardston.

After posting a 48-7 win in SAHSFL interlocking action Oct. 1, the Coyotes look for the win that will allow them to play for another week.

“We’re really excited to get out there and play some playoff football,” said Walper, whose team has gone 5-1 overall this season, 3-0 in SAHSFL play and is currently ranked eighth in the Football Alberta Tier II rankings. “We’ve been preparing all season, so we’re excited to go and try and make a push for Zones and then provincials.”

After losing his Grade 11 season to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Walper welcomed the chance to don Coyotes silks one more time in his senior year.

“It’s been good to get back out onto the field,” he said. “We always enjoy getting to play and not getting my Grade 11 year, it’s fun that we could have such a successful Grade 12 year and finish it off strong.

“It definitely means a lot. I love playing football. So I’m glad I get to experience my senior year of playing. It sucks I didn’t get all three (years), but I’m just glad we finally got to go back out and play.”

While the Coyotes won the sole match between the two teams this season, the Coyotes Grade 12 veterans will likely be thinking of the game the Cougars won two years ago.

“For the guys who were in Grade 10 two years ago. we lost by one point to CCH in a playoff game that year,” said Coyotes head coach Nick Straat. “So there’s definitely history there and there are some boys who remember that and they’re not taking anything lightly. They’re excited and they’re ready to go (today).”

What’s better, those Grade 12s that took that tough loss two years ago have emerged as bona fide leaders for the Coyotes this year.

“It’s almost like having extra coaches on the field with a lot of those guys because they obviously missed a season last year, but they’ve had a lot of buy-in this year,” said Straat. “We had this group in their Grade 10 season and they’ve picked up right where they left off and they want to help the program improve as well. So that’s been huge for us to have those guys and to have them mentor the other players as well.”

It’s great to be back, said Straat, but that year away from the field presented some challenges at the beginning of the season.

“We have two years worth of players who have never played for our program before and the Grade 12s from this year only had one year of experience. Most teams are in the same boat, they didn’t get anything for football last year, but it has definitely been a struggle in that sense, trying to get the playbooks in and get everybody caught up.”

Even the Grade 12s had to feel their way back into this season, said Walper.

“Definitely at the start it was a little bit different just because we hadn’t played in so long. It was good to get back out. I think we’re doing well and we’ve adapted well.”

“Everybody has the same disadvantage, so we took it the best we could and that’s why we are where we are today.”

The veteran also credited his younger teammates for being quick studies after a year away.

“Considering they haven’t played any high school football before, they’ve done really well,” said Walper. “We definitely have some Grade 10s who have stepped up big and some Grade 11s as well to make us a great team. It’s all of us together that makes us the team we are. So it’s good all of those guys have stepped up and come out to play.”

Straat said this year’s Grade 11s have probably had the biggest learning curve.

“They basically started in the same place as our Grade 10s in terms of this is their first season with us and learning our systems and our vocabulary and how we run things. But they’ve done a great job. It took an extra couple of weeks to get up to speed, but they’ve done a great job.”

They’ll put that on the line tonight with a trip to Cardston next week to face the 3-3-1 Cougars, who hold the fourth seed in the Tier II Football Alberta rankings

“It’s do-or-die now,” said Straat. “So everybody has to put their best game together and be ready to go.”

“It’s definitely going to be a good game, we know they’re going to come to play considering how the last game went,” said Walper. “But we’re looking to go out there and play Chinook football and come away with the win.”

After tonight’s game, the Taber W.R. Myers (1-2 in SAHSFL play and 1-5 overall) and Winston Churchill Bulldogs (0-2 in SAHSFL and 0-5 overall) hit the U of L Stadium in SAHSFL Division B play at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the LCI Rams host Medicine Hat at 5:30 p.m. at the U of L Stadium.

The Rams are coming off a 49-6 win over Okotoks Foothills last Friday, the 6-1 Rams are ranked second in the Football Alberta Tier I rankings, second to Edmonton Harry Ainlay (8-0).

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