NORTH VANCOUVER — It’s perhaps because Carson Graham Secondary has so steadfastly stared down the trend towards athletic specialization and so tirelessly trumpeted the benefits of multi-sport competition to its student-athletes, that a group as special as the seniors who populate the 2018 Eagles’ varsity football team can reach their Grade 12 years together, with a chance to soak in the full breadth of the high school sports experience.
The first page of their final chapter comes Saturday (1:30 p.m.) when Carson Graham (0-4, 0-3) plays host to its crosstown rivals, the Handsworth Royals (1-3, 1-2), in the 32nd annual Buchanan Bowl, an event which has grown to become the most tradition-laden high school sports happening on the North Shore.
And it’s an especially fitting backdrop for the majority of the team’s 20 seniors.
Last spring, we left 14 of them all agonizing over a one-point loss to St. George’s in the bronze medal final of the top-tiered B.C. high school Quad-A rugby championships.
And earlier this fall, we welcomed the same 14 back as starters on a Carson Graham football team attempting to build an identity in the top-tiered Triple A Western Conference.
With such shared credentials on their resume, it’s no stretch to call them, en masse, the best group of 2018-19 multi-sport male athletes in the B.C. high school ranks.
And that’s a good thing, too, because as we’ve discovered through the first month of the season, nothing about the progress of Eagles’ football has come without the challenge of adversity.
ANOTHER QUARTERBACK RE-INVENTION
Who’s starting at quarterback Saturday for Carson Graham?
That’s the million dollar question these days as the countdown to Buchanan Bowl gets down to the nitty-gritty.
There’s returning senior and QB-1 Charlie McMillan, who has missed the last two games due to illness, but might be ready to go.
There’s Grade 10 Lucas Grainger, a shining talent for the future, who while playing beyond his years at times, has also made the inevitable rookie mistakes.
And then there’s Liam Scott, a 6-foot-1, 190- pound senior whose curriculum vitae seems to type-cast him as the kind of 11th-hour underdog-turned-hero which seems so familiar in Carson Graham lore.
This season, after a brief flirtation in 2017, head coach Brian Brady welcomed the unconventional by installing the high-octane Air Raid offence, perhaps best known through Mike Leach’s time as the head coach at Texas Tech (2000-09).
“First of all, it’s fun, and all of our players get a chance to get their hands on the ball,” says Brady of the four-receiver set which, at its best, maximizes tempo, and challenges a defence by spreading its offensive line and attacking the field both vertically and horizontally. “You look at the stats and we have a bunch of guys getting receptions. We have 12 guys to get in there and get in space. Right now, we’re having a bit of hard time with the run game. Once that gets going, it will open up a lot more.”
But installing a pass-heavy offence and then losing your starting quarterback?
Thankfully for the Eagles, Brady was able to turn to his best receiver and very quickly convert him into the team’s new starter.
“First off, I know as a receiver, what routes work with what coverage,” says Scott, who while learning both the position and the offence, has gone a respectable 19-of-36 for 224 yards and a touchdown over parts of the past two weeks. “I also know all of my receivers, how they play and how they get open, so I have been able to adapt. And Charlie has also been very helpful.”
Adds Brady of Scott: “I am sure he’d rather be a receiver, but that is Liam being selfless for his team. I truly believe he is one of the top three receivers in the province.”
And not that the Eagles are being looked upon as one of the favourites to win a Subway Bowl B.C. title this season as they continue their transition to the game’s top tier, but Liam Scott’s story does have a recent comparable.
Back in 2015, when all of the current seniors were ninth graders, Carson Graham completed one of the most memorable campaigns in program history after necessity asked them for some clever invention.
Perhaps you remember?
Tyler Nylander came into his senior season as one of the team’s top receivers, yet like Scott, he answered his team’s vacancy at quarterback, and in the end, rushed for a ridiculous seven touchdowns as Carson Graham defeated Abbotsford in the B.C. AA final.
That season, Carson Graham entered the post season as the tier’s No. 5-ranked team.
THE FINAL GO-ROUND
As successful as Carson Graham’s Air Raid attack has been statistically (McMillan, Granger and Scott have combined to go 77-of-132 for 884 yards and six touchdowns over four games, and all sit within AAA’s top 15 passers), its defence will have to contend with the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the province come Saturday.
Handsworth quarterback Ryan Jensen, over the same stretch of games, has passed for a B.C. high 912 yards and eight touchdowns, some 350 yards more than his closest competitor.
As well, he has perhaps the province’s most dynamic pass-catcher in UBC-signee Keelan White (29 catches, 526 yards, three touchdowns).
“It’s a little sad knowing that this will be our last time to experience this game,” laments Scott, who besides catching and throwing, has tackled from the linebacker and safety spots, and done some punting. “It’s always been the most fun, the game with the biggest crowd. We’ve always felt that rivalry with Handsworth and that is what makes this game so fun.”
Yet upon its conclusion, the 2018 regular season is only half over. There’s a lot more football left to be played. And after that, for so many of the Eagles, an entire season as one of the province’s top rugby sides.
“The thing is that we’re always on the same page together,” Scott says when asked what is most comforting after so many years of moving with each other from one season to the next. “After so long, we have all learned to adapt and that helped us in how we are all able to play together. We bring our rugby to our football.”
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