Joshua Piepgrass of the St. Joe’s Celtics rugby team get staken to the carpet during the Peace Country high school boys rugby championship at Mackiln Field on Wednesday night. The Celts dropped a 31-24 decision to the North Peace Secondary School Grizzlies .
Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald Tribune
The St Joe’s Celtics boys rugby team dropped a 31-24 decision to the North Peace Secondary School Grizzlies in the Peace County high school rugby championship game at Macklin Field on Wednesday night.“We came out strong, had two quick tries and had the momentum going and then it shifted quickly,” Celtics inside centre Bennett Winnicky-Lewis said.The Celtics took a 10-0 lead but the visitors from Fort St. John scored 19 unanswered points to lead 19-10 lead at the half.“It was a close game and we knew they were going to come in and play hard,” Celtics Head Coach Tyson Gejdos added. “We had two games against them earlier in the year and they were close. They’re real physical, and in the heat, it was tough running around with a short bench [and] no subs. You have to give it to Fort St. John, they earned the win.”As Gejdos noted, the Celtics had a short bench, starting with 16 players. Celtics captain Kaleb Johnstone left the game within the opening 10 minutes with a suspected shoulder injury, leaving the green and black with zero subs on a particularly toasty day in the city’s east end.“He’s a game changer,” Gejdos said of his missing captain.But the injury woes weren’t the reason the Celtics lost a fierce and vicious game—from a physical perspective—as their chances were left wanting, scattered on the lush, home turf of the Grande Prairie Rugby Football Club.The last few minutes of the game became a definitive example of small proportions as the Celtics came up on the wrong end on two opportunities. A step here or there, a split-second quicker, and it’s the Celtics hoisting the trophy instead.With the Celts trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter, the home side had an offensive possession that was timed in minutes instead of seconds.The team pushed and heaved down the field and got the ball within a few feet of the goaline but were stuffed on multiple attempts. They stretched out and went left, stretched out and went right and tried to busting up the gut, but couldn’t get the ball where it needed to go.“We were trying everywhere, really,” Winnicky-Lewis said. “We were trying out wide, we tried to push it in with our big guys. But they had some stellar defence and props to them on that. They were playing hard until the end.”“You just need the excitement of a drive to power you through,” Gejdos added about the offensive surge that ended a few feet short. “Sometimes if you do get tackled you [have to] keep driving. If you’re a big forward you put your head down and keep going and if you’re a back, sometimes you need a quick little run or little change of an angle to get in and we couldn’t do it.”Not long after the offensive surge ended in failure, the Grizzlies got the game-winning try on a play that was a whisker away from being a possible game-tying try for the home side.A wayward pass headed left to right, after the ball came out of a pile-up deep in the Grizzlies zone. Celtics fullback Joshua Piepgrass stepped in to open space to grab the errant pass—with daylight to the endzone beckoning him—but he was a touch late as the ball found its target and was in the Celts endzone seconds later as the Grizzlies went the distance to make the score 31-17 with less than 10 minutes left in the game.“It’s crazy, you’re so close on one end and you make a mistake and it’s back in the other end,” Gejdos said. “[After the convert] that try put us down by 14 points at the time.”The Celtics pulled another converted try back but there was too little time left to mount a charge. The Grizzlies put the game away, pulling the ball out of the ruck, moving it towards the right sideline and kicking it out of play.“The last five minutes was a push right to the end,” Winnicky-Lewis said post game. “It could have gone either way.”Rugby notesThe Celtics were slated to play in the Tier II Alberta high school rugby championships in Lethbridge next weekend but the team will not be attending the event as the injury list is too long to send a competitive team to the competition.