VANCOUVER — It was a game between two running teams that started out like the script predicted.
But both the No. 4 Langley Saints and Chilliwack’s No. 3 G.W. Graham Grizzlies caught scent of a different path to the end zone over the second half of its Subway Bowl AA semifinals and in the end it was enough to carry Langley to its first-ever berth in a senior varsity provincial championship football game.
Following a 33-32 victory over the Grizzlies, the Saints will meet the No. 1-ranked, undefeated, defending B.C. champion Vernon Panthers next Saturday for the grand prize.
The long bomb, fumble recoveries, timely interceptions, handing off to 300-plus-pound offensive linemen… you name it, we saw it.
“It feels amazing, but we’re not done yet,” said Langley senior fullback Harshaad Jouhal who recovered a G.W. Graham fumble with the Grizzlies driving for the winning touchdown as the game clock was set to run out.
“We battled through adversity all season long and people have doubted us,” continued Jouhal whose Saints were unranked to start the 2019 campaign. “But I feel like this game represents what we are. There’s noting more to say.”
Who these Saints are is a team which took a thud to the solar-plexus by giving up back-to-back touchdowns, including one off a GWG fumble recovery, to trail by 12 points heading into the fourth quarter.
“That was a good punch to the stomach but we were able to recover,” said Langley head coach Ryk Piche. “We knew we still had time and we righted the ship.”
Grizzlies’ quarterback Grayson Frick went 45 yards down field to receiver Colton Holt, who was stopped at the one-yard line, Then, 305-pound lineman Mason Murphy came on and bulled his way over to make it 26-20 with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
Then, as the Saints drove down the field to tie or take the lead, the ball popped loose and was recovered by Brent Bilodeau who promptly returned it 76 yards for the score and a 32-20 lead.
Undaunted, Langley kept coming, and RB-1 Kai Thomas, on a 25-yard run early in the fourth quarter, found the end zone and pulled his team to within 32-27.
“We had to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” said Thomas of the rally and the four touchdowns he scored on the day. “We never let up and we kept grinding. When we fell behind, it just fuelled us more to go harder.”
Quite suddenly, the tide began to turn.
Balsher Randhawa picked off a long Frick pass right at the 50-yard line, and on the ensuing drive, Langley quarterback Josh Goesen hit tight end Ciaran Davies with a 27-yard touchdown pass with 6:37 left in the game.
Although the two-point covert failed, Langley was back on top 33-32, and that score would hold to the end, despite a heroic last-ditch drive by the Grizzlies.
The first half showcased what running the ball in the playoffs is all about.
For most of the first two quarters, the two teams took turns rushing for majors with their respective leading men leading the way.
Langley started things off when its provincial rushing leader Thomas peeled off a 52-yard scoring run for a 7-0 lead 5:27 into the contest.
G.W. Graham’s powerful Jaiden Claassen evened the score just under two minutes later off an 11-yard run.
Before the end of the quarter, Thomas scored his second TD of the game for a 14-7 lead, but Claassen answered 4:16 into the second quarter, knotting the score at 14-14.
Thomas rushed five yards for his third major of the game with 5:40 left in the first half, but the ensuing point-after hit the right upright.
The Grizzlies then went to the air to knot the score 20-20 at halftime, when quarterback Frick threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Colby Bessette in the end zone.
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