After the Cold Lake Fighter were disqualified from the Alberta Football League (AFL) playoffs, the Central Alberta Buccaneers were awarded a home playoff game against their rivals — the Fort McMurray Monarchs — in a game that would decide who would play in the AFL Finals.
Despite giving up a single point off the opening kickoff, it would be the Bucs’ would who would hammer the first nail when receiver Branden Siemens caught a 28-yard pass from Quarterback Jarrett Burzuk to put Central Alberta up 7-1.
The Monarchs would have the answer, however, early in the first quarter after an ill-advised roughing-the-kicker penalty by the Bucs’ led to a long touchdown, putting Fort McMurray up 8-7. The Monarchs would add to their lead as time expired in the second half with a field goal, leading tot he half time score of 11-7 Fort Mac.
It wouldn’t be long before Ben Hnatiuk, the constant hero of the 2019 Bucs, wouldn’t allow the Monarchs lead to hold in the second half when he scored his first touchdown of the playoffs, which was preceded by a huge interception by Todd Lewis — giving the Bucs’ back the lead at 14-11. Hnatiuk would continue to carry the load near the end of the third quarter — stretching the lead to 21-12 heading into the final frame.
“Every time the ball is thrown to him, I don’t even need to watch and somehow he comes down with it. He is incredible,” Bucs’ receiver Tylor Johannesson said about Hnatiuk.
The fourth quarter was dominated by Johannesson, intercepting a ball at midfield early in the quarter and then adding to the lead with a touchdown — leading to a score of 28-12.
Johannesson said he got more comfortable after Lewis’ earlier interception.
“Guys were fired up and that was pretty awesome,” he said
The Monarchs would make the game interesting with a late touchdown, followed by the two-point conversion — but it wouldn’t be enough to stop Central Alberta from advancing to the AFL Finals, winning 28-20.
Johannesson credited a change in defence to the Bucs’ success.
“We were having troubles stopping the run. We are a little small but we are quick, so we changed it up. It started being successful and we have the personnel. You could see it. Guys were flowing,” he said.
The Bucs’ will likely take on the number one ranked Calgary Wolf Pack on the road in search of their very first AFL title.
“I expect us to go in there and shut them down. I honestly think Fort Mac was a bit tougher of a test defensively but the Wolf Pack have a better passing game. We will be prepared and we expect to win,” he said.