VANCOUVER — Ryan Baker and Von Richardson.
Or should that be Von Richardson and Ryan Baker?
Hey, wasn’t there a 1965 war movie once titled Von Ryan’s Express. OK, so it was Van Ryan’s Express. Details, details.
In advance of Saturday’s Subway Bowl AA semifinal clash between the No. 1-ranked, undefeated Windsor Dukes (8-0) and the No. 5-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies (7-2) it’s tempting to use the word ‘versus’ and pit the pair of Grade 12 high school superstars against each other.
Yet if you can take rooting interests off the table for a moment and in a purist’s sense, simply appreciate what will be on display when the two teams kick-off 2:30 p.m. under the dome at B.C. Place Stadium, you’re sure to be rewarded.
Baker, on Sunday named AA’s B.C. Player of the Year is the engine that makes North Vancouver’s Dukes go.
He will line up at quarterback, where over the course of the regular season, he put up a combined 1,640 yards of passing and rushing for 21 total touchdowns.
Richardson, who was named the tier’s B.C. Defensive Player of the Year, was nonetheless the leading ground gainer, rushing for 1,395 yards and 21 touchdowns in the regular season.
And while it’s impressive enough from an offensive standpoint, it’s even better when you consider they are two of the tier’s top four tacklers, each leading the charge form the heart of their respective unit’s linebacking cores.
Baker led all of Double A football with 62 tackles, while Richardson was no slouch himself, finishing fourth with 57.
If anyone can speak to the individual talents of the pair, it’s G.W. Graham coach Lawrence Smith who has spent the season watching Richardson up-close-and-personal, and has studied Baker’s best moves in the film room.
ON VON RICHARDSON
Talent runs in cycles, and for the past couple of seasons, Chilliwack’s Grizzlies produced a string of conference all-star linemen who did a great job in front of current UBC Thunderbirds’ rookie quarterback Gabe Olivares.
Richardson, 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, has also been a constant, playing with the senior varsity since his Grade 10 year.
This season, however, the running back has been forced to do a lot more on his own.
“It’s been tough to replace those guys up front,” admits Smith, who still has a gem in Jake Troyan, “but the one thing is, we still have Von. And what he does is grind out yards.
“The big difference is, we didn’t rely on him exclusively last year, whereas this year he is 90 per cent of the offence.”
The great ones add something new each season, and Smith has noticed the latest addition to Richardson’s skill set.
“The big change is that his balance is so phenomenal,” reports Smith. “He can stay up no matter how many guys hit him and he is getting hit by all 11 defenders, some kids taking two shots at him. He can carry two, three, four tacklers and still get extra yards. He seems to get stronger as the game goes along.”
ON RYAN BAKER
Let’s clear up one thing first.
When the provincial all-star teams were announced, various numbers were put forward as to the size of Baker.
For the record, he’s a load at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
He’s also the perfect blend of finesse, power and execution.
First off, apologies for re-referencing what I feel is the best quote this season on the Windsor offence, issued by John Barsby head coach Rob Stevenson, the week before his Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season to Windsor.
But what the veteran Nanaimo-based coach said, sums it all up.
“Physically and mentally they were dominant,” said Stevenson of the Dukes. “What a fabulous football team and so very skilled. I have not seen an opponent execute their offense as good at any level in 22 years.”
Baker, of course, is its on-field conductor.
“I have to agree with Rob,” said Smith. “I watched Barsby’s film versus Windsor and they just run tremendous mis-direction and they are so quick. Everything looks a little slower on film, but our coaches watched them live last week at B.C. Place against Fulton and Ryan Baker is a tremendous player. Again, I agree with Rob. I have only coached at the varsity level for five years, but I have not seen an offence execute better. Ryan has a command. He has a presence. I like the way they are so disciplined given their (lack of) numbers.
“We beat them last year in the first round of the playoffs when they were all Grade 11s and everyone was saying then that next season they were going to be the team to beat.”
TWO GUYS WHO DEFINE WHY THIS GAME IS SO GREAT
OK, let’s say it’s Ryan Baker vs. Von Richardson in a purely appreciative kind of way.
After all, it’s why we spend an entire season watching this great game, to get a chance to see two of the best go head-to-head with a berth to the B.C. final on the line.
Each week during the regular season, we here at Varsity Letters gave you our picks for top performers of the week.
Needless to say, Baker and Richardson were like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
In fact as we leave you here, it’s time to revisit, with our actual entires, what each player did on the final weekend of October.
If you’re getting the idea they were stunning, you’re correct.
RYAN BAKER — We didn’t get the full count of majors from the Windsor Dukes’ quarterback and touchdown maker this week, but alas, his 220 rushing yards and 107 passing yards are impressive enough, especially in addition to the team-leading 10 tackles he made from his middle linebacker spot in the No. 1 Dukes’ 45-6 win over No. 4 John Barsby.
VON RICHARDSON — Just where this one ranks on the all-time single-game list isn’t known, but it is one of the most impressive totals when you consider rushing yards and touchdowns combined. The G.W. Graham running back carried 25 times for 303 yards and seven touchdowns as the No. 5 Grizz topped Samuel Robertson 46-7.
Pretend those last two paragraphs were like movie trailers.
Come 2:30 p.m. Saturday at B.C. Place, then, it will be time buy some popcorn, sit back, and simply enjoy the show.
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