VANCOUVER — The longest yard.
That’s what it came down to Saturday night at B.C. Place Stadium as the football gods pitted two incredibly talented and evenly-matched teams in a battle for the Subway Bowl B.C. Double A Coastal championship title.
In a game that went to overtime, North Vancouver’s Carson Graham Eagles got a goal-line stand for the ages, somehow finding a way to stop Robert Bateman running back Micah Barker just shy the end zone on what became the game’s deciding play.
Final score: Carson Graham 40 Robert Bateman 38.
“That’s character, right?” said Eagles head coach Brian Brady, as exhausted as his players after a dramatic victory which gave his program its first season-ending Subway Bowl title since its B.C. AA banner in 2015. “It’s responding well when the conditions weren’t always optimal, and they did that over the course of the season.
“They showed character and they did the little things right,” he continued. “They went the extra mile, even when that wasn’t the easiest way.”
Trailing 32-29 in the fourth quarter, the never-say-die Timberwolves played with the same level of heart, and after Barker was stopped at the one-yard line on third down with only seconds left in regulation, Bateman elected to kick a 17-yard field goal, which Jagroop Bagri booted through the uprights, to send the game to overtime.
Once there, with teams each taking from the 10-yard line, Carson Graham struck with poise.
Quarterback Logan Mellish went eight yards to running back Ashton Fink, then from two-yards out, pitched to Fink off the option for a 38-32 lead. Mellish even pitched to Fink for the all-important two-point convert which pushed the lead to 40-32.
Bateman’s response was quick.
Quarterback Nolan Watrin was quicksilver smooth to scored on a seven-yard keeper on second down to make it 40-38.
Barker, brilliant in bringing his team back in the second half by becoming unstoppable at times between the tackles, looked set to score on the two-point conversion, but the Eagles brought just enough bodies to the goal line to make the game-ending stop.
“I knew our kicker could make it and I wanted to give our guys a shot to win, and we had a shot to win in OT,” said Wolves’ head coach David Mills. “We had the ball at the one-and-a-half yard line, but we just couldn’t get it in. It hurts to lose, it hurts to lose in a final, but I couldn’t be prouder of my guys. That’s just the way it goes.”
Fink was a huge story in the game for Carson Graham.
The team’s RB-1, his carries dwindled late in the season as Mellish’s ability to thrive as a dual-threat pivot became more and more obvious to anyone watching the team. On Saturday, Mellish finished 23-of34 for 300 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. He also rushed for 42 yards.
Yet he emerged re-invented on Saturday as a new receiving option, and boy was he impressive.
“You get five receivers out there with him,” said Brady of Fink who scored a touchdown rushing, a touchdown receiving and added the game-winning two-point convert in OT. “He has great hands and it was great to see him cap his last high school game with his best performance.”
Added Fink with a smile: “I used to be a bigger part of the offence but I fizzled out, but I guess pressure builds diamonds.”
Trailing 32-29, the Timberwolves mounted a game-saving drive to end the fourth quarter.
AJ Nguyen’s six-yard catch from Watrin saw him drag a pair of Carson Graham defenders down to the one-yard line.
The Eagles, however, stuffed Barker on third down, before Bagri’s field goal knotted the score at 32-32 and sent it to overtime.
The Timberwolves’ mounted their opening drive of the third quarter intent on making a statement regarding its ability to play the ball-control game.
With Barker plowing tough between the tackles, a la Derrick Henry, everything else began to open up, and that led to Watrin’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Braeden Tuchscherer, cutting the deficit to 26-21.
On Carson Graham’s ensuing drive the Eagles fumbled the ball and Dallas Standcumbe’s recovery gave Watrin a short field with which to work.
An errant snap, however, ultimately led to a fourth-down turnover, but the Bateman defence forced the Eagles to punt out of their own end zone, and with 29 seconds left in the third quarter, they got the ball back at the Carson Graham 45.
Keeping it simple, Barker was once again able to cap a drive, this time straight up the gut again from 12 yards out for a 27-26 lead 57 seconds into the fourth quarter. Barker ran in the two-point convert for a 29-26 lead.
Both teams barely had time to catch their breath.
Mellish went 43 yards to receiver Malek Gul on a well-executed pass-and-run all the way down to the Bateman one-yard line. After losing four yards, Mellish ran the option, pitching to Fink for the touchdown and a 32-29 lead with 8:38 left in the game.
After Bateman quarterback Watrin scored on a three-yard keeper with 3:11 left in the half, the Wolves had taken a 14-12 lead in a game in which momentum belonged to neither team.
Yet over the final 1:44 of the second quarter, Carson Graham hit the kind of gear coaching staffs dream about at this time of the season.
First, Mellish uncorked a 44-yard touchdown strike to Griffin Withers, the speedster receiver who also doubles in the defensive secondary.
Withers caught the two-point convert to give the Eagles a 20-14 lead.
Robert Bateman’s plans to get that major score right back looked set to unfold when Watrin, off a flea-flicker, rocketed a 50-yard offering down field and looked to have perfectly targeted Tuchscherer at about the Carson Graham 10-yard line.
Daniel Tshibang, however, played it perfectly, the Carson defensive back coming through with a perfect pass break-up with 1:28 remaining.
Then, with 50 seconds remaining in the half, and the Timberwolves looking to finish strong going into the break, the Eagles’ ball-hawking secondary came through once again, and this time in spectacular fashion.
Watrin’s completion to Nguyen was ripped away from his clutches by none other than Withers, who grabbed the ball and blazed a 65-yard path back down field for a touchdown and a 26-14 halftime lead.
The Timberwolves opened the scoring off of Nguyen’s 11-yard reception to the Carson goal line, which in quick order set up Barker’s one-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
Mellish’s five-yard TD run pulled the Eagles to within 7-6, and he later threw a two-yard touchdown pass to to Fink for a 12-7 lead.
For the Eagles, Vytor Oliveira led the defence with 16 tackles.
Malek Gul, picked the game’s top back, had six catches for 105. Withers had eight catches for 113 and a score.
The Carson Graham coaching staff were all involved in its junior varsity team’s narrow loss in AA Coastal final to start the day of football Saturday under the dome.
Yet after addressing his team in a circle following the game, Brady looked at Saturday’s entire journey as one which also included last year’s COVID-cancelled campaign.
“This has been like a two-year season,” he began, “and last year we were really surprised with how well we responded, and how well this team stuck together even when there wasn’t that carrot of being able to play a game at the end of each week. All of that helped lead us to today. It really feels like the end of a two-year season.”
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