VANCOUVER — The Carson Graham Eagles are soaring when it matters most.
Back on Sept. 17, North Vancouver’s Eagles were humbled to the tune of a 50-6 loss in its home opener by the Langley Thunderbirds, unranked at the time but sitting on the cusp of becoming the province’s most dominant AA team over the course of the regular season.
Just over two months later, however, with a berth to the 2021 Subway Bowl B.C. Coastal AA championship final on the line Saturday at B.C. Place, it was Carson Graham playing the kind of gritty, big-play filled football which allow it the honour having a final week of practice.
“I think it’s about believing,” said Carson Graham head coach Brian Brady after his team’s 24-22 comeback win over the Thunderbirds, which included quarterback Logan Mellish connecting with receiver Aidan Nemeth for three touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 8:33 remaining. “If we believe in ourselves, and we believe in this team, there is a lot that we can accomplish.”
The Eagles not only overcame their earlier loss to Langley, they continued to move past 46-12 and 46-22 conference losses in back-to-back weeks to start November against fellow semifinalists Robert Bateman and John Barsby respectively.
“They made a couple of really big plays early in the game,” said Langley head coach Mark Wyse. “We had great coverage on the routes, but they would just end up making a great catch, and today, that was kind of the tale of the tape. We got stops on them but they were able to continue drives with a few big plays.”
Mellish went 20-of-33 for 370 yards and four touchdowns, while Nemeth caught 11 passes for 205 yards and three majors.
After sacking Langley quarterback Jordan Williams midway through the third quarter to force a punt, the Mellish-to-Nemeth duo went to work.
First, a 42-yard connection down to the Langley 13-yard line, then a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it 18-8.
Langley, however, just needed one snap at its 50-yard line to get those points right back, as running back Ryan Goeson, B.C. AA football’s Player of the Year took a hand-off from Williams and went the distance, cutting the score to 18-15.
The T-Birds then got an interception from Louise Villamin with 3:20 left in the third to set up another drive.
On fourth-and-two from the Eagles 32-yard line, Goeson took a hand-off and looked like a sitting duck in the midst of the Carson defence.
Yet somehow, his legs kept moving and he gained separation to score a most miraculous 32-yard touchdown for a 22-18 lead on the last snap of the quarter.
“He is a kid that is an X factor for us and he was great today,” said Wyse. “But they had some kids that were X factors as well, and they had great games.
“And these are the exact kind of conditions that their team is designed for,” Wyse added of Carson’s Air-Raid offence. “The exact conditions. So kudos to them for getting here.”
Among the plethora of big plays the Eagles connected on Saturday, their last one was their biggest.
Carson Graham took the lead back with 8:33 remaining in the game on the third touchdown hook-up of the game between Mellish and Nemeth, this one a 14-yard in-stride strike in the back of the end zone on second-and-nine.
The Eagles, however, failed to convert on its fourth straight two-point convert attempt and had to settle for a 24-22 lead.
Langley still had a chance to win after Goeson, this time on defence, picked off Mellish at Langley 22-yard-line with 1:37 remaining, but the Eagles defence capped a true bend-but-don’t-break afternoon.
“This is a tough one,” said Goeson. “We didn’t come ready, we tried to make up for it in the second half, but it didn’t work out.”
The Eagles struck with similar big-play authority to open the game, taking a 12-0 lead after the first quarter on a pair of touchdown passes from Mellish.
First, Mellish went 30 yards to Nemeth, then after the Eagles’ defence stopped the Thunderbirds on fourth-and-goal from their own 20-yard line, Mellish hit receiver Malek Gul on an 80-yard catch-and-run down the sidelines. Gul finished with four catches for 106 yards.
Langley, as much about big plays on offence this season, set up its first score with opportunistic defence.
A Carson Graham fumble was recovered at the Eagles’ own 38-yard line.
Two plays later, on second-and-five from 35, quarterback Williams hit receiver Aaron Linden on a short pass. Linden actually reversed field, coming back to the original line of scrimmage before waving his way through a phalanx of tacklers, one of whom bounced off of him, as he wove his way to the end zone.
Carson Graham threatened to score just before the break as Mellish continued to be a difference-maker from the pivot.
First, he completed a 42-yard pass to Griffin Withers to move the ball to the Langley 45-yard line. Then, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound AA provincial all-star quarterback took off on a 22-yard run in which he straight-armed two would-be Thunderbirds’ tacklers to the ground.
Langley linebacker Shawn Morse, however, came up with a fumble recovery to snuff the drive and the half eventually ended with the Eagles’ leading 12-8.
Said Nemeth afterwards of catching the winning touchdown: “I was super excited but our defence was unstoppable today and they gave us a chance to win the game today.”
Rush end Vytor Oliveira led the charge with 11 tackles, Charlie Huntingford had eight tackles, one for a loss and two sacks to go along with a big fourth-quarter pick, all from his outside linebacker spot.
Safety Dylan Seiler had nine tackles and linebacker Max Millar seven.
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