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Fort McMurray Saints football team playoff bound

PHOTO. Members of the Fort McMurray Saints pose for a team photo at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. Supplied by Fort McMurray Catholic School District/Twitter.

The Fort McMurray Saints are playoff-bound.

They qualified for the Football Alberta Tier-1 playoffs in their first year.

The Saints comprise of players and coaches from Fort McMurray Catholic School District (FMCSD) schools Father Mercredi and Holy Trinity.

Head coach Kevin Garbuio said the team looks forward to representing the region.

“It’s a goal of ours to get here. We didn’t get to play in, which is what we were looking forward to [in] Foothills, but the team not being able to play allowed us to get an extra week off, so we’ll take it.”

He added the team was unsure whether they would qualify for the first or second tier.

Barnstorming tour

When Father Mercredi and Holy Trinity first organized their schedule, they wanted to join the Wheatland League.

However, the teams based around places like Lloydminister, Wainwright, and Bonnyville didn’t want to pay to travel north for games.

So, both FMCSD decided to play as independent schools in Alberta.

Unfortunately, Garbuio said that opened up more problems.

“After doing some budget calculations, we realized that’s not feasible in any economy, so we joined the two teams together.”

No teams in Alberta were willing to travel to Fort McMurray this year during the regular season.

Therefore, Garbuio and the Fort McMurray Saints decided to take their talents on the road.

Similar to the barnstorming teams of yesteryear, the Saints finished their inaugural season with two wins and three losses.

“The hope is that we would reset our local league, but after the success of the season and how things are going, the coaching staff and administration are very happy with the program and how things are going.”

Garbuio suggested the Saints may be here to stay.

Obviously, there were questions when the FMCSD merged the two rival football teams.

Fortunately, Garbuio said the team came together nicely in an easy-going atmosphere.

“We didn’t have any issues at practice with chemistry; we practice at Merc every other week, so flipping back and forth, getting equipment to and from: That was my biggest concern, but it hasn’t been an issue.”

He thanked parents, the administration, and volunteers for helping to solve any practice space or equipment issues.

“It is a successful program. We’re sending kids all over North America for football, we have coaches flying to Fort McMurray to meet some of our players. It’s amazing to see the talent that comes from this community, so the more kids playing football the better it is for everyone.”

Garbuio recalled FMCSD alumni Lamar Goods, who signed with Florida, and also Luke Foster, who received offers from Yale and Dartmouth.

Provincial playoffs

As the only unranked team in Tier 1, the Fort McMurray Saints hit the road once again to play the #9-seed Grande Prairie Warriors.

Garbuio said he likes his team’s chances.

“We played them earlier in the season, we lost 28-7, but they didn’t get a single first down until near the last two minutes of the first half. We were all over them.”

He added turnovers were the difference in the ball game as the Saints gave away the ball eight times.

Nevertheless, they were within a score for most of the game.

“We know them fairly well. Their head coach played university football with [me] and coach Fletcher, so we got some of the same ideas. Just don’t turn the ball over and execute.”

If the Saints upset the Warriors on Nov. 9 in Grande Prairie, Garbuio said they earn a special reward.

“We finally get a home game. We get to host at Shell Place the following weekend. It’s going to be cold, but we finally don’t have to travel.”

Their game against the Warriors begins at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2019, at CKC Field, in Grande Prairie, Alta.

For more information about fundraising opportunities, go to the Fort McMurray Catholic School District website.