The Westlock Thunderbirds returned to the gridiron last week only to be handed their second loss in as many games to begin the 2018 Wheatland Football League season.
The Thunderbirds travelled all the way to Lloydminster Sept. 6 for their second consecutive road game to open up the season, losing to the Barons 45-8. This came on the heels of a 35-0 loss Aug. 30 courtesy of the St. Paul Lions.
Despite the losses, head coach Jon Kramer remains hopeful for the season and said his team remains undeterred.
“It was a positive game, but we lost by quite a bit again,” he said, adding the Barons are ranked first in the province in Tier 2. “They’re a great team.
“We knew we were kind of punching above our weight class, so when we went into this one we told the guys we won 20 of the hundred plays we ran in the last game, let’s try to bump that up to 30 … Every single play is a new chance to win. Out of the 150 plays this last game, we won 46, so that was a big improvement for the guys.”
Athabasca’s Kane McNamara also scored his first ever touchdown on a 40-yard run, which accounted for six of the Thunderbirds eight points.
“There was quite a few other highlights, we blocked a punt, we got a sack, so there was lots to celebrate,” said Kramer. “Winning 46 plays, that’s a big deal. There were also good tackles for short gains. We’re just going to keep rolling with that. Our schedule doesn’t get much easier.”
The season-opening four-game road trip for the Thunderbirds was a result of several closer teams dropping out of the league this year, but the time on the bus provides an opportunity for teammates to get better acquainted, as it is very much a regional team with players coming from Barrhead, Onoway and Athabasca.
“It makes for long days, but it’s actually a good thing,” said Kramer. “It’s good for them to spend some time together on the bus and get to know each other. A lot of the team growth happens on the road, so we’re happy with the schedule, it’s just a lot of time on the road.”
The Thunderbirds will put even more miles under their belts in the coming weeks as they hop on the bus back to Lloydminster Sept. 14 to face the four-time WFL champion Holy Rosary Raiders. The team will then travel to Bonnyville Sept. 22 to face the Voyageurs.
“If we’re learning a bit more every week and winning a few more plays each game, we know we’re setting ourselves up for a good run into the playoffs … When you get to the pros it’s all about winning, but we’ve got to remember we’re coaching youth football and it’s about personal growth. It was a good bus ride home,” said Kramer.
After four straight road games to open the season, the club will finally return to their home field at RF Staples Sept. 28 to take on the Cold Lake Royals for Friday Night Lights. Kick off is at 7 p.m.