The 2022 Alberta Football League season has been full of firsts for the Airdrie Irish.

Last weekend, the Irish hosted their first ever home field playoff game and hammered the Central Alberta Buccaneers 53 - 0 at Ed Eggerer Field at Genesis Place.

Yesterday (August 13) Airdrie punched their ticket to their first ever Alberta Football League championship final with a 35 - 15 win over the Edmonton Elite in Fort Saskatchewan.  The Irish will face the Cold Lake Fighter Jets who are unbeaten this season after their semi-final win against the Calgary Wolfpack.

In yesterday's game, just like in the team's first meeting this season, the Irish had to come back from a half-time deficit.  Unlike the regular season meeting, which ended in a 20 - 20 tie, this time around the Irish left no doubt who was the better second-half team,  scoring 23 points to just one for the Elite.  Team President Connor Lutz was ecstatic about the victory, which came in spite of some adversity.

"We were short ten starters going up to Edmonton and we knew that we were going to have to have a really disciplined, well coached, high effort, high hustle game and we went up there and did exactly that.  I think this game really showed the organizations that we built here in Airdrie.  We've been preaching since this team got together in January that it's a "next man up" mentality."

Lutz said that thought process made for a great team win but singled out the Irish defense for special praise.

"Early in the game the offense kind of struggled to get going.  We had a couple of turnovers and the defense really kept us in it.  They shut down the Edmonton offense pretty well the whole game.  They only gave up one offensive score.  The other came on a pick-six."

The Airdrie ground game dominated, much like it has all year.  Much of the reason for their success can be attributed to the play of the offensive line.  Yesterday it was missing two starters but, once again, the "next man up," or in this case, " the two, next men up," filled in exceptionally well.

"The offensive line really kept us in the game early and they kept rolling late to keep chewing up the yards and clock and get us the victory," explains Lutz.  The Irish now prepare to face the undefeated Fighter Jets next Saturday in Cold Lake in the AFL final.  Airdrie's only loss this season came at Cold Lake's hands back on June 19th, a 41 - 15 decision.  To prevail over the tough Cold Lake squad, Lutz knows what has to happen.

"I think we're just going to have to do a better job of playing our game.  There were a few plays that got away from us last time we played the Fighter Jets.  I think we had five turnovers and two of those resulted in touchdowns.  We (gave up) one kick return touchdown so that's about 20 points we gave their defense. If we can eliminate those mistakes and play our brand of football I think we can play with that team."

Another motivator for the Irish is atoning for the end of the first game with the Jets when a bench-clearing brawl broke out.  Lutz said both teams have dealt with that internally and he doesn't expect any similar goings on.  That doesn't mean the green and white aren't heavily anticipating the rematch.

"We've had this game circled on our calendar all year," laughs Lutz.  "The biggest thing for us is, we want to settle some of those beefs on the football field.  This (Cold Lake) is a really good football team but I think the Irish can play with them.  Everyone believes this is a game we can win."

If the Irish bring home the championship from northern Alberta, it would mean their season isn't over.  Lutz explains the winner of the AFL moves on to the National Final which alternates between the east and the west.  This year's game will go in the west so whoever prevails next weekend, the Irish or the Fighter Jets, would host the National Final, sometime in September.    

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