With a 20-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Cochrane Cobras football team was just 33 seconds away from booking their berth in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association's (ASAA) Tier I provincial championship game, in their south Alberta final against the All Saints Legends on Saturday.
But similar to the Winnipeg Bluebombers in Sunday's Grey Cup, the Cobras learned just how quickly things can change in Canadian football.
A last-minute touchdown and one-point convert from All Saints was enough for the Legends to win the battle 21-20 over Cochrane, propelling the south Calgary team into the fabled Alberta Bowl. The provincial championship game will be contested Nov. 26 at Shouldice Athletic Park's Hellard Field in Calgary.
The agonizing finish – which ended the Cobras' 2022 season – came after the Cochranites had crawled back from a 14-0 deficit to lead All Saints 20-14 in the fourth quarter.
"We were down 14-0 and had to scrap," recalled Cochrane's head coach Robbie McNab, who added that slow starts had been a regular issue the Cobras faced this season.
"We finally got our offence moving a bit and went up 20-14," he said. "We had a couple of field goals, which we were hoping to turn into touchdowns but didn't."
According to McNab, the Cobras fumbled the ball just outside the end zone on a play that would have added six points to their lead and likely won Cochrane the game.
Buoyed by their regaining of possession, the Legends' offence ended the fourth quarter with a successful drive that was aided by a defensive penalty call against Cochrane.
"They had a penalty late, marched the ball down, and scored with 32 seconds left to take the lead," McNab said. "That was it – the season was over."
The narrow defeat means that for the first time since 2011, the Cobras football players won't be hoisting the Alberta Bowl trophy. Before this year, they'd won the Tier III provincial title nine seasons in a row (and 15 times in the last 21 years, according to ASAA archives).
"I should phone up ASAA to see if they'll be OK without us in the final," McNab joked.
After two decades of dominance at the Tier III level, the Cobras opted to declare for Tier I this year, meaning their 2022 provincial push was played against bigger schools from bigger cities.
McNab said the 2022 season was a learning curve for the Cobras, who took on the likes of the Holy Trinity Academy Knights and St. Francis Browns in non-competitive scrimmages, and the Foothills Composite Falcons and the Henry Wisewood Warriors in the provincial playoffs.
Despite being smaller than most of the teams they went up against this year, McNab said the Cobras didn't look out of place at all against their Tier I counterparts.
"We scrapped, we just couldn't match up size-wise," he said. "But our coaches did a great job preparing our kids to compete at that level, for sure.
Cochrane is graduating about a dozen players this season, which McNab said is typical for the school's football program.
An important factor to note is that this year's Cobras football roster was Grade 10-heavy, according to McNab, who added those first-year players will be eager to step into bigger roles in 2023.
"I'm really proud of our kids and our coaches. We'll get back at it in the off-season," he said.