VANCOUVER — The truest comment of the entire B.C. high school football season was all about how the Windsor Dukes were perhaps the best executing team in the entire canon of B.C. AA history.
On Saturday, in the 2017 Subway Bowl final at B.C. Place, the team from North Vancouver left little to dispute in its 44-29 win over the Abbotsford Panthers, completing an undefeated 10-0 season and winning its first crown since 2005.
Armed with a game plan that couldn’t have worked any better than if it had been read off the pages of a Hollywood movie script, the Dukes came out with the simple idea of keeping the ball out of the hands of Panthers’ running back Samwel Uko, and from there, let the chips fall where they may.
The game plan?
Low, hard squib-like kicks, not all necessarily onside kicks, but short, hard and sharp blasts which would test the hands of the Panthers’ return team, all with the idea of generating turnovers, keeping the ball away from Uko, and give the Dukes a short field with which to operate.
Boy, did it work.
On the day, Windsor’s kick-off unit recovered five such kicks, three of which they instantly turned into touchdowns.
“It was just about playing the odds,” admitted head coach Jim Schuman. “You don’t want to let them have the football too many times. We had to limit their touches and time on offence, and it’s worth the gamble on the field position because they’re probably going to drive the football and eventually get there anyways.”
Instead of being a gamble, however, it just kept working. Over, and over and over again.
Over a span of 3:24 just before the end of the first half, the Dukes rallied from a 15-8 deficit to take a 29-15 half lead, scoring three consecutive majors over that span, including the final two which came off of fumble recoveries on special teams.
And oh, in case you thought there wasn’t much to his nickname, Dukes’ quarterback Ryan Baker, the Touchdown Maker, scored the first two and also made both a touchdown pass and fumble recovery over the stretch before throwing for one major and rushing for yet another in the second half.
Abbotsford running back Samwel Uko returned an interception 47 yards to the Windsor 33-yard line, and from there, Luke Szmutko first ripped off a 27-yard run, then a two-yard run into the end zone. Karl Van Einsiedel then caught a two-point convert pass and the Panthers were looking good at 15-8.
That’s when the Windsor Dukes turned into the No. 1-ranked, undefeated Windsor Dukes.
With 4:24 remaining to halftime, Baker scored on a six-yard run and then ran in a two-point convert to tie the score at 15-15.
Abbotsford fumbled the ensuing kickoff return and that resulted in an immediate Windsor response, a 33-yard Baker major to make it 21-15.
Incredibly, it happened again.
This time, off the ensuing kickoff return, Baker recovered, setting up a drive that began at the Panthers’ 47 and was capped by a four-yard run by Julien Perri.
How else do you explain that with 1:20 left to the break, that a two-point convert pass from Baker, intended for Jack Meyers, was tipped away by Abby’s Van Einsiedel and right into the hands of a falling Perri.
That made it 29-15 at the half.
Twenty-one points in just over three minutes.
Like a hurricane.
“Samwel is unbelievable player and we tried to keep the ball out of his ands and play to our strengths,” said Baker, AA’s B.C. Player of the Year. “We have lots of athletes who can chase it down and execute it well. It was a game full of ups and downs, we turned it over too, more than we like. But we had guys that made plays.”
Abby running back Uko, was helped off the field early in the game, returned and scored on a 26-yard run to make it 7-0. However he was clearly hampered and late in the game was shown to be visibly on the limp.
Baker got Windsor on the board when he completed a 68-yard TD pass to Ben McMichael to make it 8-7.
The second half, amazingly, picked up right where the first half left off.
Szmutko pulled Abby to within 29-21 on a one-yard scoring run, but then Baker threw a 57-yard strike to Sean Werbowski to make it 35-22 with just 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Just as they did in the first half, Windsor continued to win with their kick-off game.
Perri was able to gain a loose ball on the ensuing kickoff for his team and on the very first play from scrimmage Baker took off on a 51-yard touchdown run to make it 44-22 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
Perri, ridiculously, yet again recovered the ball on the very next kick-off, but this time Windsor coughed it up.
“The fact that we could not return the kickoffs and we kept turning it over was pretty much the story of the game,” said Panthers head coach Jay Fujimura. “Things might have gone a different way, but hats off to the them. They had a good game plan and it cost us.”
Abbotsford wrapped up the scoring when quarterback Ethan Anderson hit Van Einsiedel with a four-yard touchdown pass.
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