KAMLOOPS – J.P. Lancaster didn’t know what else to say other than to call Tuesday’s news “A crazy twist of fate.”
On Monday, the head coach of the South Kamloops Titans high school football team had his players clean out their lockers and attend season-ending exit meetings.
On Tuesday, he was not only calling his entire team back to the practice field, he was booking a road trip for a Subway Bowl first-round playoff game Saturday against the host Prince George Polars.
So what happened to precipitate the 11th-hour reprieve that had Titans’ players literally jumping for joy?
Maple Ridge’s Samuel Robertson Technical Titans forfeited their playoff game Saturday against the host and Northern Conference champion Polars.
At first, Prince George was simply going to enjoy a bye week in preparation for its quarterfinal game against Western champ Holy Cross, set for the Nov 16-17 weekend.
However by mid-afternoon Tuesday the B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association had made the decision to go with the next-best available team.
“I guess at end of day the football gods can smile on you every once in a while,” said Lancaster. “To be given this opportunity is something else and we’ll run with it.”
Lancaster is not a teacher at South Kamloops, and thus was not able to be with his players when he broke the news to them that their season would indeed go on.
However, after notifying each player through the team’s group-chat app, the joy was instantaneous.
“My phone lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Lancaster.
Did they think their coach was delivering an ill-timed joke?
“I laid it out in a way that was serious,” said Lancaster. “We missed a whole day of practice Monday and there was the chance that some of the guys might have already checked out. They had already handed in their gear so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we’ve gotten a huge positive energy boost going into practice today and we’re going to keep it.”
Lancaster earlier referenced the football gods, and when you step back and take a look at the big picture, it’s hard to find a team more deserving of a last-second change of fortunes than these Titans.
Just last season, they finished dead last in the Interior with 1-3 record (1-7 overall), but this season they jumped up to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in league, losing out on a tiebreaker for the second-and-final post-season berth to Vernon’s Clarence Fulton Maroons.
“There was a huge buy in from our players to turn the ship around,” said Lancaster who saw so much of that materialize when the Titans topped Westsyde 35-18 in its final league game Friday. “A great deal of our starters in 2017 were Grade 10s and so we felt the outlook over the next two years would be good with such a strong core. We spent a lot of freezing mornings from January through March having throw-arounds and touch games at the only indoor field in Kamloops.”
But practising in that domed turf field with zero insulation from the sub-zero Kamloops’ winter was just another level of adversity the Titans endured.
“Morale was very high going into summer camp but then we were met with adverse weather conditions due to the wildfires,” said Lancaster. “We were forced to practice indoors for the first three days of camp because the air quality in the city was dangerously poor due to all the smoke.”
Curiously enough, the team that South Kam opened against is the same one they will now replace to begin the post season.
“We had a narrow defeat at Samuel Robertson where we were stopped short in their red zone and that renewed our resolve,” said Lancaster of an 8-0 non-conference loss, and later a 14-3 loss to Fulton in which two blocked kicks on special teams made a huge difference in initially keeping the Titans out of the playoffs. “It appeared as though those instances would go on to define our season.”
Instead, football fate has given them a chance to extend their season.
And if what they showed in Friday’s win over Westsyde is a sign of what’s to come, it appears the Titans have the kinds of weapons they will need to match Polars’ explosive quarterback Braden Reed.
Titans’ Grade 11 quarterback Eric Crawford went 19-of-30 for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
And senior receiver Callum Gorman caught eight passes for 132 yards while making 10 tackles and two fumble recoveries on defence.
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