By Rob Vogt
The Claresholm Cobras bantam football team capped off a dream season by taking second in the province and coming within 3.5 seconds of winning gold.
The Cobras travelled to Lethbridge on Saturday, Nov. 11, where they lost to the Olds Bulldogs by a score of 26-23 in a game for the ages.
Battling gusting Southern Alberta winds the entire afternoon, the teams had troubling moving the ball, and were tied 0-0 after the first quarter.
Part way through the second quarter, the Cobras took over on the Olds 50-yard line.
Cobra quarterback Briggs Baker promptly connected with receiver Jax DeJong for a 15-yard gain, then runningback Easton Wright ripped off a 10-yard run and Baker and DeJong connected again for 20 yards, taking the ball down to the one-yard line.
The early indication was a touchdown, and the announcer mistakenly announced one, but the referees spotted the ball on the one-yard line.
Baker then plunged over for the touchdown, giving the Cobras a 6-0 lead.
Tragedy struck on the ensuing kick-off as the Bulldogs ran it all the way back 70 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 6-6.
On the next kick off the Cobras fumbled, Olds recovered and were set up on the Claresholm 20-yard line.
Things looked to be unravelling, so Cobra Coach Ken Wright called time, gathered his troops, and reassured them.
They responded with a big play of their own, as the Cobra defence knocked the ball loose and Braydon Baird recovered it on his own 15-yard line.
The Cobras had turned away the Bulldogs at the door.
However, Olds would start moving the ball again as the seconds ticked down to end the half.
With just a few seconds left, they scored a touchdown to take a 12-6 lead then tacked on a two-point conversion to lead 14-6 going into the halftime intermission.
Strategy changed in the second half for Claresholm.
With the wind playing havoc with the passing game, the Cobras began to run the ball, giving the Bulldogs a steady diet of Easton Wright, who gained eight to 12 yards on every carry.
After wearing down the defence, Wright went over the goal line from four yards out to close the gap to 14-12 for Olds.
The point after attempt failed, but Olds was offside. Not only did Claresholm have another chance, but from closer in.
Baker made no mistake, taking the ball in for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14.
Late in the quarter, the Cobras had again moved the ball deep into Olds territory when they were faced with a choice on third down.
Coach Wright opted to punt, with the intention of kicking the ball through the end zone for a rouge, also called a single point.
Baker again made no mistake as the Cobras tacked on that point to lead 15-14 after three quarters.
That set up a wild final 12 minutes of play.
Almost immediately, Olds again struck with a big play.
This time a quarterback draw turned into a 75-yard touchdown run, giving the Bulldogs a 20-15 lead.
Soon after, the Cobra defence again stopped Olds on third down, giving the offence the ball on the Olds 26-yard line.
Wright took over from there, running hard until he hit the end zone, giving Claresholm a 21-20 lead.
DeJong then hauled in a pass from Baker for a two-point conversion and a 23-20 lead.
There was just 2:33 left to play.
Olds gambled on a crucial third down, and were stopped by the Cobras.
They took over and again Wright ground out some key yards.
However, the Cobras had to turn the ball over to Olds after a third down passing attempt came up short, with just over 30 seconds to play.
Then, with 3.5 seconds to play, Olds hit a long pass and run for a touchdown, and a 26-23 lead.
The Cobras had one last play, but the wind knocked down an attempted throw, ending the game.
The Cobras had left everything on the field in a battle that could have gone either way.
By Rob Vogt