Kelowna running back Jack Nyrose does his best to elude what has been an Iron Curtain defence in 2021 for Notre Dame Jugglers like (left to right) Noah Banco, Massimo Ryan and Pedro Cabanas. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Football

No. 2 Mt. Douglas at No. 3 Notre Dame: Who wins? Victoria’s Rams with its Thunder & Lightning at backfield, or the Iron Curtain defence of East Van’s Jugglers!

BURNABY — The heavens have been threatening all week with a distinct dark-cloud scowl, and yet if the football gods do indeed decide to order up rain by sheets for Friday afternoon’s highly-anticipated AAA clash of unbeatens at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex (2 p.m.), then so be it.

East Vancouver’s No. 3-ranked Notre Dame Jugglers have made their name by running the football for their entire existence, and if you’ve followed the fortunes of Victoria’s No. 2-ranked Mt. Douglas Rams, you may have noticed they they boast the province’s best one-two punch in running backs Miltiadis Koulelis and Malik Gagne-Smith.

Each team sitting with identical 3-0 records in the Western Conference, and each still to play, among its remaining three league games, fellow 3-0 division foe and No. 1-ranked Vancouver College.

It’s the opening chapter of what promises to be a breathless race to the start of the first Subway Bowl championships since 2019.

What did we ask the head coaches of the two teams about this week as we explored respective scheme and personnel with each other?

Well, starting from Notre Dame’s perspective, it’s the size and strength that the Rams bring to the line of scrimmage which has defined so much of who they have been this season.

“I think they can line up and just be tremendously physical with you and they also have the skill players,” says Notre Dame head coach Denis Kelly. “They can basically go either way when they line up. They can run right at you, but their quarterback, Hunter Swift, this is his third year (of senior varsity), and he has started a lot of games and their receivers are very good.”

Highlighting that size is the Rams’ 6-foot-7, 345-pound guard/tackle Sebastian Sibbald, still just a Grade 11 but already looking like one of the best interior linemen in the program’s 25-year history.

And from the Rams’ perspective, it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that the Jugglers, through five overall games this season, have yet to allow a point.

Mt. Douglas quarterback Hunter Swift played for both the Rams JV and senior varsity back in 2019. Two years later he is fully in command from the pivot for B.C.’s No. 2-ranked AAA team. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2021. All Rights Reserved)

“Well, they are a fantastic team and when you get to the midway point of the season and you have not allowed a point, that frightens me a lot,” says Mt. Douglas Rams head coach Mark Townsend.

And as he’s watched the Jugglers in action, it’s no surprise that one player in particular has caught his attention.

“Their No. 8 at quarterback, but moreover playing defensive end… he is a phenomenal talent,” Townsend says of Notre Dame’s 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior Aiden Domino, who is a field general wherever he happens to line up. “He is going to be a real challenge for us. Playing an opponent which has not allowed a single point is going to be a great measuring stick.”

Of course the flip side to that is the way the Jugglers’ defence will have to perform if it is to slow down the Rams’ thunder-and-lightning running back duo of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior Koulelis, and the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Gagne-Smith. Each is averaging over 100-yards rushing per game this season.

“Malik and Miltiadis complimet each other well,” agrees Townsend. “Malik is a little smaller, but quick and explosive, while Miltiadis is taller, very physical and very well built in terms of his stature. But although they differ there, they are similar in the way they are quick and explosive and can be physical when they need to be.”

The Notre Dame defence, under the auspices of coordinator Jordan Liberman, has been lock-down good for well over a month.

Outside of scheme, a key factor has been the experience at many levels of the defence.

In fact, between the secondary and the linebackers, upwards of six of this season’s senior Jugglers saw varying degrees of action with the varsity.

In the secondary, safety Massimo Ryan and corners Antonio Conte and Luca Pante, and among the linebackers Gian Carlo Garcea, Aiden Thomas and Pedro Cabanas have put that seasoning to good use, including helping bring along Grade 11s like safety Strachan Liberman and linebackers Shaan Sandhu and Isaish Picariello.

In the last meeting between the two teams, an Oct. 4, 2019 clash at Royal Athletic Park in the provincial capital, Mt. Douglas won 34-0.

The last Burnaby Lakes meeting took place Sept. 21 of 2018 in a game won 15-12 by the Jugglers.

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