WESTLOCK — The Westlock Thunderbirds proved they are ready for the 2023 football season after thumping Slave Lake’s Roland Michener Rams in a 79-32 blowout during their season opener at home Sept. 14.
Playing in Tier 2 of the Alberta 6-A-Side Football League this season, the T-Birds got off to a quick start with a 12-0 lead just minutes into the game, and although the Rams fought back, jumping ahead 14-12 mid-way through the second quarter, it was short lived as they could not out-play or out-work the T-Birds in front of an energized home crowd. At halftime, the T-Birds had a commanding 53-20 lead and never looked back.
“It was really important to get off on a good start and that’s really what we wanted to do, especially at home,” said head coach Jared DeJong, noting they felt the T-Birds were a bit flat at the start.
“We had some big plays that resulted in some scores and they have a couple of really good athletes on the Slave Lake side, so we needed some work on defence to adjust to their speed and what they were doing.”
The T-Birds have a larger number of players, sitting around 25 including several new Grade 9 students, all who put forth a strong team effort.
“We’re allowed to play Grade 9s so probably about five or six of the kids out here were in Grade 9 and were contributing,” he said. “Some of them are in different stages of learning and developing but everybody I think saw the field today which was our goal.”
The first victory of the season was the result of several key factors in addition to a strong offence, noted DeJong.
“Our defence played great. We had a lot of guys rotate through especially in the second half and on defence. Trust is always the hardest part in football and it’s one of the most important things,” said DeJong. “So we took some time to figure out how to trust each other on the field and once we got that, then I think we were pretty successful in stopping what they wanted to do.”
He praised his players for a job well done.
“I think this is an awesome group. I think they’ve done a great job of working (new players) into the team and making them feel accepted,” he said. “We have a big group from Athabasca, they know each other, there’s that camaraderie. I know we had a big group of fans from Athabasca here tonight as well.”
Looking ahead in the season, the T-Birds know they have their work cut out for them, as they will face some new teams in the Alberta 6-A-Side Football League.
“(The high scoring game) was a statement and that’s definitely what we wanted … but for us it’s really about getting better every week,” said DeJong. “Being better next week might mean a different score and a much closer score but it’s important for us to get better every week.”
The T-Birds are on the road in Vermillion for their next game Sept. 21 and will return home Sept. 27 when they welcome Frank Maddock High School from Drayton Valley.