A blocked field goal attempt was all that stood between the Carlton Crusaders pulling off a stunning opening night triumph at Max Clunie Field Friday.
Down 22-6 to the Bethlehem Stars going into the final quarter, the Crusaders scored 14 unanswered points and had a chance to win the game with a 10-yard field goal on the last play of the night after the Stars were called for defensive pass interference.
However, the Stars were able to break through the Crusaders’ offensive line and block Kelsey Siwak’s kick to escape with a 22-20 triumph.
“We just ran out of time there at the end, but I’m extremely happy with how our guys played in the fourth quarter,” Crusaders head coach Lindsay Strachan said.
“At halftime, we talked about being better with our tackling on defence and executing better on offence. We started to control the tempo of the game and that’s what allowed us to have that charge in the fourth quarter.”
One of the key components of the Crusaders’ rally was their defence, as they were able to hold the Stars off the scoreboard over the final 24 minutes.
“They really stepped up their game,” Strachan said. “I’m not sure what they talked about over there at halftime, but our guys were able to improve as the game went on and they made some key plays out there.”
The Crusaders also made a switch under centre for the second half as quarterback Isaiah Holodniuk was swapped out in favour of Cody Huntley.
“We’ve actually been going back and forth between both guys for the last two weeks in practice,” Strachan said. “Both guys did good things tonight, but I felt like we needed to give Cody a look to start off the third quarter.
“We needed a bit of a spark and we got that, as he made a couple of great throws early to help set up some good drives.”
Huntley connected with Kael Leachman for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, while Holodniuk and Elijah McPherson scampered across the goal line on rushing plays.
Meanwhile, Stars quarterback Zach Kramchynsky hooked up with Matthew Wist on a pair of touchdown passes and running back Ethan Sommerfeldt ran into the endzone for a score.
The Stars defence also came up with big plays in the first half, as Jacob Sanderson and Ivan Alumia each had interceptions.
“They outplayed us in the second half,” Stars head coach Kirby Frey said. “We had 16 penalties compared to just two for them, so we shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit.
“With that said, my hat goes off to Carlton. They have a number of great players and it was a heck of a finish.”
The Crusaders will look to pick up their first win of the season next Thursday as they’ll go on the road to face the North Battleford Vikings.
After winning the 3A provincial title last fall, the Vikings’ title defence got off to a tough start Friday as they suffered a 38-6 loss to the Evan Hardy Souls.
“They may have some turnover from last year’s team, but (Vikings head coach) Mike (Humenny) runs a great program and they always present a challenge,” Strachan said.
“They still have a big bruising running back (J.T. Lamb) so we’re going to have our hands full with him.”