Establishing the run on offence and stopping the run on defence proved to be a winning formula.
The Foothills Falcons scored three running touchdowns and held the Strathmore Spartans off the scoreboard to take the Big Rock Football Conference semifinal 34-0 Friday night in Okotoks.
"We were still making some mistakes," said Falcons head coach Nathan St. Dennis. "Offensively, we just weren't as crisp as we should be. We had a bunch of drop balls again which you don't really have an answer for that, you just have to make plays, but the great part was our defence responded really well. Even in a couple turnover situations that put us in bad field position, they responded and got some turnovers where we needed.
"Overall, the great part offensively for us was our run game, we did a great job there. It's just a matter of balancing it out and being efficient with our pass game."
Foothills established the run early and often with a steady diet of Ryan Goeson and Eton Nelson in the backfield, chewing up yardage and taking advantage of strong field position throughout most of the first-half.
On defence, the Falcons gave up next to nothing with an emphasis on containing southpaw quarterback Nick Heaton inside the pocket.
"It was just being really tough, hitting hard and being controlled and making sure we knew where the ball was," said Falcons linebacker James Bertram. "We knew their quarterback has done a few sneaks out back so we knew to keep control on the other side and watch for that."
Foothills opened the scoring late in the first quarter. Goeson's physical running up the gut opened the door for an outside run with Nelson using his considerable speed in open-field to hit pay-dirt from 20 yards out. Nelson then caught the subsequent two-point conversion on a trick play.
"We saw that the D-line had really big splits so we knew we would have success running inside," said Nelson. "And our O-line had a really great game as well so we had really good success with that."
Foothills made it a 15-point advantage going into halftime after quarterback Tyson Camel scrambled out of the pocket and connected with Grade 12 receiver Josh Groome in the end-zone.
In the second half, special teams led to Foothills' third score though the hosts needed to do some freelancing to get in the end-zone.
After a botched Spartans punt forced a turnover on downs, the Falcons attempted a 25-yard field goal which was promptly blocked by the visitors.
From there, veteran experience took over for Foothills as Nelson saw a lane, turned on the jets and scored his second touchdown of the contest.
"I stepped up to block and then just heard the ball go off one of my teammates' backplate," Nelson said. "I look up, see it in the air and Michael (Eagle Bear) was about to recover it so I yelled to him 'give it to me' because I knew I had an open lane. He pushed it over to me, I picked it up and I saw the end-zone and just ran as fast as I could."
In the fourth quarter, Foothills' defence continued to set the table for its offence.
Bertram dropped back into coverage for a key interception at the Spartans 25-yard line, leading directly to a touchdown from the offensive unit.
"I just dropped back to my zone, he threw the ball and I saw that it was coming right for me," Bertram said. "I got it and just started running.
"It just shows we're ready to get in there and get our offence back the ball and do that as much as possible."
Sam Simard, a defensive end for Foothills, made good on his opportunities on the other side of the ball scoring Foothills' last two touchdowns to close out the semifinal.
First, the Grade 12 multi-sport athlete scored himself a 10-yard touchdown on a powerful run late in the fourth quarter.
"We just put Sam in at runningback this week just in case one of us got injured and when we got up three touchdowns, coach decided to put him in there," Nelson said. "He killed it, he looked like he knew what he was doing."
Simard added another major for good measure in the final seconds for Foothills' third touchdown on the ground, punctuating a strong performance from its varied attack on the ground.
"Ryan Goeson, he was selling out for us, Grade 10 kid, he's something you can get excited over and build your team around for sure, he's doing a great job for us. There's nothing really fancy about it, he just works hard," the coach added. "Eton is a great leader and a dynamic athlete and having that there is great for us offensively and even getting Sam some touches is great for him. He deserves it, he works hard for us."
Foothills will look to carry the momentum into the Big Rock championship against a team it knows pretty darn well.
Later on Friday, the Holy Trinity Academy Knights dispatched the Rundle College Cobras 44-0 in the other Big Rock semifinal.
The Big Rock Football Conference championship is Oct. 25 at Knights field.
HTA, the undefeated No. 1 Tier II team in the province, took the regular season meeting over Foothills by a 38-18 count in September."We started off on the wrong tone and weren't exactly ready (last time)," Bertram said. "But now that we've played against them and have been doing really well the last few games I think we're ready to play them and we've got the right tone."