By Dale Woodard on November 23, 2021.
Pyken Easthope saw some open field in front of him and took off running.
As a result, so will the Raymond Comets.
Facing their rival LCI Rams for the third time this season – this time with a provincial final berth on the line – the Rams edged LCI 16-14 in the Football Alberta Tier I South Championship Saturday evening at the University of Lethbridge Stadium.
Now, the Comets are Edmonton-bound and headed to Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday for the Tier I provincial championship versus the Edmonton Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds, who beat the Lindsay Thurber Raiders 48-15 in the North final Saturday.
On a blustery Saturday night that made for some frigid conditions and with the Comets down 7-3, Pyken heated up at just the right time, finding a seam down the sidelines for a 76-yard romp that put the Comets ahead for good.
The Rams provided a last-minute touchdown to pull within two, but the LCI crew were unable to get any closer as the Comets hung on to take two of three games between the two rivals this season and now head to the Edmonton Elks stomping grounds to vie for a provincial title.
With the Rams leading in the fourth quarter, the Comets passing game clicked when they needed it most as quarterback Houston Ralph found Easthope.
“I had a route, I got the ball and fought hard outside,” said Easthope, a Grade 11 slotback. “I had blockers and the team set me up for that.
“We fought hard, we practised hard. We came out with some new plays and it was a good game. They fought and we knew it was going to be close.”
The Comets nursed a 3-0 lead late into the first half.
Raymond advanced to the LCI 11-yard line at the three-minute warning, but the Rams were able to stuff the drive and keep it 3-0.
The Comets drove deep again before the half was over and faked an 18-yard field goal from Tanner Morales, but Comets quarterback Houston Ralph’s pass attempt to Easthope was batted away as Raymond held a 3-0 halftime lead.
The Rams got on the board and took their first lead of the game when Maxx Hironaka lunged in from two yards out for a 7-3 lead with 5:24 to go in the third quarter.
But early in the fourth quarter the Comets got the lead back and kept it on Easthope’s long run for a 9-7 lead.
“To be honest I was telling our quarterback to throw to our other receiver, Luka (Kauro),” said Ralph. “I was yelling ‘Luka! Luka!’ and then it ended up going to Pyken. He broke a few tackles and he used his speed. That was really the most exciting play of the game. I’m happy for Pyken. He deserves it. He’s been working hard. It’s good to see. He had a really good start to the year and then he had some games where he didn’t get the ball for whatever reason, but he’s been a key contributor to our team and I was happy to see him make a big play.”
The wind let up just enough for the Comets to complete the passing play.
“It was tough for both teams to pass, so there was lots of running and stopping their runs,” said Easthope. “But at the end it got a bit less windy and we were able to get those passes.”
The Comets padded their lead with a little over five minutes to go as Everson Harker hauled in a 26-yard catch to mark Raymond to the LCI six-yard-line before Houston Ralph capped off the drive with a one-yard lunge to make it 16-7.
The Rams didn’t go quietly with a last-minute drive as quarter Crew Hirsche hit Hudson Procee on a 15-yard pass to pull LCI within two with 35 seconds to go.
But the Comets were able to grab the ensuing short kick to run out the clock and clinch the provincal final berth and trip to Commonwealth Stadium.
“I feel like we played a really good first half and we went into halftime only up 3-0 and I felt our kids were a little frustrated by that,” said Ralph. “At the start of the second half we just didn’t play with emotion and play up to our standard and went through a little bit of a lull. But we regained it, got the lead and fortunately got the result we wanted. We’ll look at the things we did wrong and try to get better for next week.”
Game time against the Thunderbirds Saturday is 2:30 p.m.
“I’m pumped,” added Easthope. “It’s fun to keep going and keep playing. It’s nice to have a long football season.”
The Tier I final is one of six games which will be played at Commonwealth Stadium over the course of two days Friday and Saturday.
In the Brian Fryer Division featuring the top-four ranked teams, the Francis Browns play the Edmonton Harry Ainlay Titans at 6 p.m.
The Tier IV South champion Taber W.R. Myers Rebels kick off Saturday’s games when they take on the Sexsmith Sabres at 11 a.m.
On Friday, the J.C. Charyk Hawks faces the Millwoods Christian Royals in the 6-man championship at 1 p.m., followed by the Tier III final between the Cochrane Cobras at the Holy Rosary Raiders at 4 p.m.
The Holy Trinity Academy Knights play the St. Joseph’s Celtics in the Tier II final at 7 p.m. Friday.
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