VANCOUVER — It was perhaps the first fully-dry weekend of B.C. high school football played in the Mainland-Valley corridor this season, but don’t try to tell Denis Kelly that the figurative rains didn’t somehow find a way to fall, even though all the action Saturday was under the dome at B.C. Place Stadium.
“It was one of the more miserable nights for football for us,” Kelly said in the moments after his team fell to what is now the only undefeated team remaining in the entire ranks of B.C. high school football.
And there’s a reason that Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens, who beat one of the best Notre Dame teams in recent memory by a 27-12 score, have yet to taste defeat.
By bringing an extra edge to its swarming defence, by utilizing tempo in the huddle more than they have all season, and perhaps most importantly, still seeing such appreciable levels of individual improvement at key positions — like quarterback and running back — 13 weeks into this 14-week season.
That’s an exercise in counting some of the reasons why Terry Fox, No. 3-ranked in the last Varsity Letters’ AAA Big 5, got better instead of stagnating, considering additionally that it had not played a game in over three weeks time due to back-to-back byes, the latter unplanned.
Six more sleeps now until they face Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies in what is now an all-Eastern Conference battle for all the marbles.
On Saturday, Terry Fox built a 21-6 halftime lead by finding ways to keep the Jugglers out of synch, not an easy task, especially with quarterback Aiden Domino’s ability to not only find his cadre of speedy and shifty receivers, but to himself rush the ball with powerful authority.
“We just couldn’t get anything going and you have to give Terry Fox credit for great preparation,” said Kelly. “They came out and gave us that no-huddle offence, and they came out and gave us a real tough defensive effort. So they’ll go to the final and we’ll think about next year.”
The flip side of Notre Dame’s cruel reality?
It’s Terry Fox head coach Tom Kudaba’s post-game confirmations that his roster, when tested under fire, has just continued to get stronger and add new facets to their individual games.
The Jugglers’ staff was consistently confounded, especially in the first half, in finding ways to keep Fox’s fleet-footed pivot Owen Sieben in the pocket.
In ways very similar to UBC’s rookie quarterback Garrett Rooker, Sieben adds a new dimension to his game when he takes it on the run, and midway through the opening quarter he was doing just that, keeping his opponents guessing, then converting a fourth-and-three at the Notre Dame 28-yard line by firing a quick strike to speedy receiver Renzel Arinaza for the game’s opening touchdown.
“Owen Sieben is a guy, who over the beginning of the year, we’re saying ‘You’ve got run more, you’ve got to run more,’” said a delighted Kudaba. “All of a sudden it’s clicking for him and he is starting to run, and you can see it. He is tall, and an accurate passer. He had a lot of dropped balls, and he can make some first downs on his own.”
It also didn’t help to get a little help from the football gods, which the Ravens got their share of on one play.
RB-1 Gavin Whittingham, the senior speedster who was injured to start the season, was enjoying an incredible start to Saturday’s game, peeling off long runs, and putting his team ahead when he found the end zone from five yards out.
Notre Dame’s Pedro Cabanas, on a five-yard run, cut the score to 14-6.
Then, with the Ravens lined up on first down at the Notre Dame 22-yard line, the football gods smiled on Terry Fox.
Whittingham took a hand-off from Sieben and ran straight ahead for about 12 yards, but when he got to the 10-yard line, with the Notre Dame defence closing, the ball was suddenly fumbled forward as if shot out of a cannon.
It looked to have been slowed right at the goal line by the Ravens’ Jacob Brass, and was then scooped up off the turf and taken into the end zone by Arinaza, and his second major helped put Terry Fox up 21-6.
Then, with two minutes left in the third quarter, Whittingham had the misfortune to fumble again, this time deep in Terry Fox’s own end of the field.
Fortunately, the defence got him the ball back, and with his teammates encouraging him to forget about the turnover, he came right back into the game, and ran with fury, scoring on a 20-yard scamper up the gut for a 27-6 lead which for all intents and purposes, sealed the victory.
“You’ve got to go with a kid’s confidence, and he’s got confidence,” said Kudaba of putting the incredibly dynamic Whittingham right back on the field. “We want him to run like he can.”
Terry Fox later stuffed Notre Dame on four snaps inside the Ravens’ five-yard line on a goal-line stand, which given the clock and the stakes, might have been the most important series of plays in the contest to that juncture.
Although the Jugglers’ Massimo Ryan caught a 14-yard TD reception from Domino with 4:07 left to make it 27-12, it all eventually proved to be a case of too little, too late.
Afterwards Kudaba admitted that being an uptempo team has always been their preferred persona.
But, as he pointed out afterwards, trying to do it at the high school ranks isn’t always easy, especially when there isn’t always the required quality depth.
“That is supposed to be our game,” he said of the pace, which seemed especially effective in the second half as Notre Dame was rallying its forces for one last attempt to wrest momentum to their sideline. “We want to go tempo, tempo, tempo and what we discovered today is we have a couple of guys that can play who haven’t played very much.
“With that, we were able to keep some guys going one way.” he continued. “When you play that tempo game, and say 10 guys are going two ways, it’s impossible.”
And thus two Grade 10s, wide-bodied pluggers along the lines named Mareon Karvouniaris and Hayden Cote, the latter the younger brother of former Fox grad and current Western Michigan defensive lineman Cade Cote, were worth their weight in gold.
“We had those two guys step up and that is part of what a winning program is all about,” said Kudaba.
Just some things to consider about the Ravens and who they are becoming going forward into this weekend’s title tilt as they seek to win the season’s final B.C. Place game since 2016.
Remember that year?
That’s when the Ravens’ Devin Passaglia, a second cousin of legendary CFL kicker Lui Passaglia, booted a 29-yard field goal in overtime to give Terry Fox a most dramatic 17-14 win over Notre Dame.
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at email@example.com.