Thursday, Jul 13, 2017 06:00 am
By: Andrew Halipchuk
The Airdrie Irish senior men’s football team accomplished a major milestone following an impressive 39-14 victory over the Lloydminster Vandals July 8, going .500 for the first time in franchise history.
The win not only brings the Irish to a 3-3 record on the season, but also shows major strides the team has made two thirds of its way through the franchise’s third year in Airdrie.
“This club has never been at .500, so it’s a good achievement for these guys and they’re starting to turn a corner,” head coach Sean Stewart said. “(We’re) getting to where we want to have the program. The guys are coming together at the right time.”
One emphasis Stewart said he has been preaching to his team for most of the 2017 campaign is the idea of playing as a team and trusting the other players. He said the team’s win over the Vandals was a major step forward in that regard.
“We still had some mental mistakes, but the guys responded well,” Stewart said. “We’re losing the individuals and we’re gaining the team.”
The team rallied around one another despite giving up an early first quarter touchdown and struggling offensively on the first two drives of the game to overcome the then-3-2 Vandals and walk out of week six in a playoff position.
Although the offence couldn’t get any early momentum – going two and out on its first drive and quarterback Andrew Stannix throwing an interception in the Vandals’ endzone on the second drive – it was the defence that got the ball rolling, as a fumble recovered by James McNeill was taken to the house, knotting the game up at 7-7.
In the second quarter, the Irish offence started marching the ball well on the Lloydminster defence. With Stannix connecting with Wes White early in the quarter and James Balsdon on a third down gamble in the final minute, the Irish took a 21-7 lead into halftime.
The Irish kept the pressure on in the second half, with running back Braxton Hyland breaking out for a huge 60-yard touchdown scramble just minutes into the half to add to the Irish lead.
“I didn’t know I had it in me to be honest. There was a hole and I just found it,” Hyland said.
The Vandals answered back with a touchdown of its own on the ensuing drive to get back within two touchdowns, but that would be as close as it would get that afternoon.
The Irish tacked on a punt single, field goal and fake field goal touchdown in the final minute of the game to stifle the Vandals en route to the 39-14 victory.
“Our defence is very strong. It definitely helps us out,” Stewart said. “Now that our offence is clicking as well, it definitely helps. We can play the field management game and the defence gets the rest. Now that both sides are working well, lets see what happens.”
The win was the Irish’s third of the season and put it into a three-way tie for fifth in the Alberta Football League standings.
The season continues for the team July 15 when it welcomes the 3-2 Central Alberta Buccaneers to Ed Eggerer Athletic Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.