The Grande Prairie Drillers opened Alberta Football League play with a 14-9 loss to the Airdrie Irish at Legion Field on Saturday night.
The Drillers (0-1) held a 9-7 lead late into the fourth quarter but the Irish broke the plane of the goal line with 19 seconds remaining on a 25-yard catch and run play.
On the game-winning possession, the visitors got the ball on their 35-yard line with 1:05 left in the game. Five plays later the ball was in the endzone.
Following the touchdown, the Irish (1-0) botched the kickoff and were penalized 10 yards for the ball not travelling the requisite ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
The Drillers got the ball at the Irish 47-yard line with 10 seconds left but two pass attempts for the endzone fell incomplete.
“It’s a tough way to open the season but you live and learn from it,” said Drillers temporary head coach Trace Griko. “It was a hell of a football game and stuff happens.” Drillers head coach John Park was called away for work, forcing Griko to lead the charge from the sideline.
Even though they gave up the major at the end of the game the Drillers ‘d’ was spectacular on a incessantly windy night over at Legion Field. The unit turned the Irish away on a handful of different occasions as the visitors had the ball deep in Drillers territory.
Griko was asked what he enjoyed most in watching the defence make play after play?
“They were flying around the fielding hitting everybody,” Griko said.
With the exception of a lost fumble on their own 11-yard line, late in the fourth quarter, special teams was also a positive factor for the home team, causing a couple of fumbles on punts and limiting the Irish return game with great open-field tackling and lane discipline.
“Defence and special teams are what local high schools have built their reputation on and it’s worked its way up to us,” Griko said. “Defence and special teams win championships and that’s the way it goes.”
With the exception of a quarterback keeper by Jordon Fersch in the first quarter, which gave the homeside a 7-0 lead, the offence hitched and coughed the remainder of the game.
“Injuries started to happen as Fersch went down,” Griko said. (We had a starting receiver) go down, the offensive line started to wear down. It’s the first game of the year. The guys are going to get better.”
Jesse Deering took the snaps the remainder of the game after Fersch picked up a knee injury in the second quarter. Fersch was limping noticeably on the sideline and had taken his equipment off, watching the remainder of the game in a t-shirt.
The offence was also its worst enemy, having one major called back and several long runs negated by penalties. It looked like a unit that hasn’t had enough time to practice. The club had a couple of opportunities inside the 10-yard line of the Irish but couldn’t punch the ball in. Settling for nothing, more often than not.
“More guys have to come to practice,” Griko said. “We get good numbers but we do need everybody together so we can get that full team look.”
The offensive woes in Game 1 are totally fixable Griko insisted. But what the coach needs to see is everybody getting together twice a week to put the effort in.
“I figure the time line is a month and a half, especially with us only practising twice a week,” Griko said about the time it should take to get the offence in sync. “It takes a while. Fersch is a new QB and he’s getting used to the guys. Some guys aren’t there everyday so it’s hard to get the reps in. Getting that timing down and it’s all about coming to practice and getting the work in.”
The Drillers are in Lloydminster in two weeks time to face the Vandals.