VANCOUVER — The St. Thomas More Knights may be playing without one of the biggest parts of its collective football heart.
Yet somehow, and there is no real so-called tangible way to explain it, the No. 2-ranked Knights find themselves a 10-0 football team headed to next Saturday’s Subway Bowl AAA semifinals against the Terry Fox Ravens (7:30 p.m., B.C. Place, full schedule below).
On one side of the ball, take a running back who averages just a tick shy of 11-yards-per-carry and 144 yards-per-game out of your backfield and you’re still undefeated?
And on the other side, take out a middle linebacker whose tackle-collecting ways helped epitomize a defence which has done more than hint that it is one of the best 11’s in the provincial history?
Losing Tyler Eckert and his 1,157 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns and 31 tackles to illness is enough to change the identity of most teams.
Yet on Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium, in a 32-13 quarterfinal win over the Notre Dame Jugglers, it only served to reinforce just who the 2017 St. Thomas More Knights are: A Team Named Bernie, one playing in the memory of its recently-deceased head coach Bernie Kully.
“You know what?” began De Lazzari moments after the win, “that was a pretty gutsy effort. You take the star player off of any other team in the province and ask them to do what they did tonight without a guy like (Tyler) Eckert…”
Say ‘hello’ to back-up running back Joel Pielak who carried 20 times for 130 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown.
And also say ‘hello’ to quarterback Dario Ciccone who, in addition to throwing a 32-yard strike to Connor Hayek, rushed 13 times for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
“Pielak, the way he carried the ball, and our quarterback, the damage he did with his feet? He was a rock. I couldn’t be prouder,” said De Lazzari.
Pielak’s TD run capped a 45-yard game-opening drive and after Ciccone rushed for a five-yard score, he connected with Hayek to make the score 19-0 at the half.
Ciccone shook a tackler on his way to the end zone for an eight-yard scoring run that made it 25-0 in the third quarter, then added another from a yard out after David Osho took an interception return down to the Notre Dame three-yard line.
The youthful Jugglers got their scores of an 82-yard kick-off return by Jerrell Cummings and a three-yard run with 18 seconds remaining from quarterback Will Clarke.
De Lazzari admitted the time-honoured ‘next-man-up’ mantra applies well in his team’s situation.
“It has to because that is high school football,” said De Lazzari. “That is what sport is and you have to play through it. If you don’t have the depth, that next-guy-up, then you’re done.”
The Knights defence continued to confound its foes.
Jonah Fridfinnson led the way with 10 tackles, while Daniel Auld (six tackles) and Kaishaun Carter (five tackles) each registered sacks.
SUBWAY BOWL 2017
SEMIFINALS (All games at BC Place Stadium)
9:30 a.m. – Eric Hamber vs. Spectrum (Tier-2) (final)
12:00 p.m. – No. 2 Vernon vs. No. 3 Abbotsford (AA)
2:30 p.m. – No. 5 G.W. Graham vs. No. 1 Windsor (AA)
5:00 p.m. – No. 3 South Delta vs. No. 1 New Westminster (AAA)
7:30 p.m. – No. 7 Terry Fox vs. No. 2 St. Thomas More (AAA)
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