The University of Alberta Golden Bears Football team playoff hopes were dashed out as they lost in the Hardy Cup semifinal game.
The short-lived playoff drive for the Golden Bears began and ended with their game against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on November 2. After a close game, the Bears lost 28-23.
The Bears finished their regular season in third place within Canada West. For Ben Kopczynski, a fifth-year student in industrial design and Golden Bears wide receiver, clinching playoffs was a “wonderful” feeling for the team.
“We got really excited as a team to get to playoffs,” he said. “Everyone, even the coaches knew it was a special moment. We pulled together and practiced hard to get ready for what we expected to be a tough game.”
The road to playoffs was never guaranteed, said head coach Chris Morris.
“Every team in Canada West is a solid team,” he said. “To win in this division means a lot because the competition is fierce. So for us to get to the playoffs meant a lot, and we really were in contention the entire game.”
The playoff game: a “strong” first half but “tight” final quarter
The U of A squad began the game strong by scoring the first touchdown five minutes into the game. With six minutes left in the first quarter, an 80-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Brad Launhardt, completed by Daniel Bubelenyi, increased the Bears’ lead. Alberta defence managed to prevent the Huskies from scoring anything more than a single field goal in the first quarter.
Launhardt managed a two-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter to increase the Bears lead to 21 points. However, the Huskies rallied back with their safety team, a touchdown, and 30-yard field goal to make it 21-15.
Kopczynski said the Golden Bears had a “strong” start with their team really pushing the Huskies.
“We came off hot by scoring two touchdowns off the bat,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game against them, so we tried to come out as strong as we could right away to get momentum in our favour.”
After the Golden Bears led the entire first half, Saskatchewan continued their scoring drive with a touchdown to take the lead and make the score 22-21 in their favour. A field goal in both the third and fourth quarters cemented their gain further.
In Kopczynski’s view, Golden Bears offence stumbled in the second half of the game while trying hard to post more points on the board.
“We just couldn’t get the ball moving as much as we wanted while on offence,” he said. “We tried our best to make some sort of play work out.”
“[The Huskies] just ended up scoring more points than us in the end.”
Morris said the Golden Bears were in the game until the very last moment.
“We were in the game until the very end,” he said. “We had some plays that just unfortunately didn’t work out the way we hoped.”
“We could have won that game,” he said. “It just didn’t go our way this time.”
Lots of potential for Golden Bears next season, says Morris
While the playoffs have just ended for the Bears, Morris is already looking at next season.
“It was a really good season,” he said. “I’m proud and I hope the team is as well. We did a really good job… But we will have to work hard to maintain and push ourselves further for the next year ahead.”
He said the team will be continuing to practice, get stronger, and expand their experience over the off-season so they are ready to play their best next year.
“It was a big step for us being in the playoffs,” he said. “Not only that, but we had a great showing against every team we played this year.”
“Those are all huge building blocks for us. The team rallied well together; they played well with each other and worked together every play… It’s really what you want to see as a coach.”
He added that the roster for the team will be staying fairly consistent with 46 out of 48 players who were at the playoff game are able to come back to play for the Bears again.
“That in itself is a huge asset for the year ahead,” Morris said. “All the experience will carry-over. We won’t have as much building to do like we did this year. Now we can hone and practice what work or didn’t work.”