The Cochrane Cobras are heading back to the provincial championship after upsetting the defending champion HTA Knights, 17-15, in a defensive battle one play short of going into overtime
The Cobras grabbed a commanding 17-0 lead in the first half and battled a re-energized Knights in the second half. The Knights scored a touchdown on their first possession in, added a field goal, and scored with zeros on the clock to come within two of the Cobras.
When the Cobras fended off a two-point conversion passing attempt the large crowd of supporters let out a roar that could be heard across Shouldice Park.
The first half was all Cobras with quarterback Noah Makkreel at the helm. He engineered a series of passes that led to a touchdown early in the second quarter. The Knights looked destined to score until Cobra linebacker Stanleigh Stone picked off a pass from Knights quarterback Declan Lyth, then jolted downfield for 92 yards for the pick-six.
Cobras head coach Rob McNab called it a tale of two halves.
"We controlled the ball very, very well in the first half. In the second half, we were just struggling a little bit to put some first downs together and they started to get their groove and it became the close game we had anticipated."
"They were the provincial champs last year in Tier 2, and they beat some really notable schools this year. We knew we were in tough and we had to play a really good game in order to beat them. We knew we could be competitive, but we knew we had to be solid on all three facets of our game to win."
McNab got in his full 10,000 steps pacing the sideline. He says others had pointed out he paced a little more than normal.
"It was one of those games where you don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what it was. I just had a lot of energy, I guess."
Football Alberta officials called it a game they had long anticipated after an exhibition game between the two powerhouses had to be scrapped last year when officials weren't available.
It's the first time since 2017 that the Knights haven't advanced to the provincial championship game. They won the title in 2019 and 2022.
The Cobras now face Edmontion's Austin O'Brien Crusaders after the defending northern champs downed Red Deer's Hunting Hills Lightning, 23-5.
The Crusaders had a solid year at the Metro Edmonton Division I level and were the north champions last season.
"Making the top four and playoffs in that league is difficult at the best of times but even harder for a Tier II-sized school," states Football Alberta in an analogy of the team in advance of the provincials quarterfinals. "Yet, Austin O’Brien did just that and may be taking a .500 record into provincials but is very battle-tested, and the defending northern champions from last year will definitely be in the mix for another title run."
Friday's kick-off is at 4 p.m. at Setters Place in Red Deer's Great Chief Park.
It's been some time since the Cobras and Crusaders have met. The Cobras beat them in the Tier 2 championship game of 1998.
"They play in a very, very competitive league and play a lot of big schools in Edmonton, and so they're very well versed on playing hard nosed football. They're going to be tough. There's no question about it."
The Cobras won the Tier 2 provincials in 1996 and 1998 seasons before they went on to dominate Tier III play for two decades.
Last season they missed the provincial finals for the first time since 2011. They opted to compete for the Larry Wilson Tier One championship and lost in the dying seconds of the south final against the All Star Legends, 21-20.
The Cobras holds the record in Alberta high school football for the most consecutive provincial titles and consecutive wins.
The Cobras families and friends were a vocal group at Saturday's game. To be fair, so were those of the Knights, who have strong support for their program.
"We just have great parents, we always do," says McNab, "But this year seems to be one of those extraordinary years. I mean, we have a team dinner every Monday, which the moms and some of the dads put together for our whole team, and they've been doing it all year. That's quite a dedication to the program."
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