VANCOUVER — It came out of nowhere, and if you ask the winners, just in time, too.
For them, it unfolded like a dream, so many seemingly odds-stacked moments joining hands, becoming a chain which kept pulling them in a single, unified direction.
And then finally, with the momentum seemingly palpable, it beat the clock by a single breath, creating as unlikely a championship winning drive as you are ever apt to see.
Trailing 14-7 to the Terry Fox Ravens in Saturday’s showcase Subway Bowl AAA championship final, the New Westminster Hyacks somehow managed to navigate their way through an 80-yard drive, using every tick of the 2:34 that remained to snatch a 15-14 victory and set a new bar in the event’s history of dramatic, heart-stopping finishes.
Never mind that their offence had coughed and sputtered most of the evening.
Never mind the self-inflicted penalties they took to start their final drive, and never mind that over its duration, their entire season twice would hang on fourth-down conversions.
And finally, never mind that the kid who caught the touchdown pass which enabled the Hyacks to bring their convert team onto the field to seal the victory was a senior who had never caught a pass, let alone a touchdown, over his entire high school career.
“I can’t even explain the nerves that were going through me,” said Severio Asaba, a 6-foot Grade 12 safety who, playing the final game of his high school career, caught a 19-yard touchdown pass in the end zone from quarterback Kinsale Philip on a play that began with one second remaining on the game clock.
“It was so intense, everything was flashing before my eyes,” he continued. “I can’t even explain the nerves that were going through me. All I could think about was all the hard work that we put in from the beginning until now.
“I just had to make it. I had to make the catch. I just knew that I couldn’t drop it.”
HELD TO ZERO AT THE HALF
The Hyacks, attempting to win their first senior varsity football title in school history, were not in a very familiar position at the half, trailing 14-0 and appearing tight throughout the first two quarters of play.
New Westminster appeared to have an opportunity to put points on the board before the break when quarterback Philip found Broxx Comia along the sidelines in full stride heading towards end zone.
The pass was perfect, but sailed right through the hands of Comia.
The drive itself was put into place by a dynamic 57-yard kick-off return by Sebastien Reid down to the Terry Fox 35-yard line with 6:14 left to the half.
Prior to all of that, the Ravens’ defence had done its job of limiting the Hyacks’ big play offence, while opening the scoring on one of its own.
Running back Cade Cote went 89 yards down the field to open the scoring on a rushing major.
Jaden Severy then picked of Philip, and returned it to the Hyacks’ 40-yard line where Terry Fox quarterback Jevaun Jacobsen then took it 35 yards to the New Westminster one-yard line. That set up Cote’s two-yard touchdown run a few plays later and cemented a 14-0 halftime lead for the PoCo school.
The Hyacks, in fact, didn’t get on the scoreboard until 3:49 remained in the third quarter.
Reid peeled off a 50-yard run to the Terry Fox five-yard line, and a few plays later, Philip was able to run it in to pull his team to within 14-7.
The Hyacks’ defence seemed to be stringing together stops, and coupling those with a growing offensive momentum. Yet their fate seemed sealed after Terry Fox’s Jacobsen, in his role within the Ravens defensive secondary as a safety, twice took the ball away and stopped Hyack drives in their tracks.
On one occasion, Jacobsen ripped the ball out of the hands of running back Sammy Sidhu, allowing teammate Mitch Bye to make a fumble recovery.
And on another, in man coverage, he leapt in front of Sidhu to intercept Philip, his youth football teammate in the Royal City, on a deep New West drive.
“I just knew we needed to get the ball back,” said Jacobsen, a Grade 11. “We had to stop their momentum and I felt that we did. It’s tough, but our team is going to come back ever better next year. One hundred percent this motivates me and I am going to train so hard this summer because I want to be right back here next year.”
All of that led to the Hyacks taking over with the ball at their own 20-yard line, and just 2:34 remaining in their season.
On fourth-and-five from their own 25, Philip ran to the 38-yard line for a gain of 13 and first down.
The Hyacks got whistled for a false start, then after two incomplete passes and the onset of fourth-and-nine, Philip threw a 16-yard pass to Matthew Lalim for a completion at the 50-yard line.
With just 10 seconds left in the game, on second down following a New West spike, Philip then found Reid who made it all the way to the Fox 19-yard line where the clock stopped with a second remaining in the contest.
“It was just all fades,” admitted Lalji afterwards. “We had practised a Hail, Mary play earlier in the week. Everybody was supposed to go deep and Sebastien was going to run under it and everyone was going to block.”
One of the players in to block on that play was the senior safety Asaba.
For a moment after Reid went down, it appeared time had lapsed in the game with 0:00 on the game clock.
However, a second was added, and in the haste to execute the game’s final snap, Lalji and his staff didn’t have time to substitute personnel.
“At that point there was still a second left,” Lalji said. “And at that point you can’t spike it, you have no time outs, you just have to take a chance.”
And thus Asaba remained in the game for its final play, making the catch that put the Hyacks in position for the convert.
Lalji admitted the decision was made before the game to go for two points in any such scenarios and thus Lucas Sabau found himself with the ball and the chance to bull his way into the end for the win.
He did, and pandemonium ensued.
For Lalji, who rallied the forces and revived Hyacks football from a long slumber in 2003, the 15th season of the program’s return was beyond special.
“Coming into it, I thought about what it might feel like if we ever won,” the coach said. “But I realized tonight in the big picture it doesn’t matter. It’s about this group of players. They fought so hard, they won two championships (including a 2015 BC JV AAA title). Really, I am just lucky and blessed to have had the chance to coach them.”
(We’ll have more from Subway Bowl’s AAA championship final over the coming days.)
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