VANCOUVER — It happened somewhere around the time that Tyson Kelly picked up a bad point-after snap and ran it into the end zone for a two-point convert.
Midway through the first quarter of Saturday’s Subway Bowl B.C. AAA Coastal final, Kelly and the rest of Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies had answered a game-opening touchdown drive by Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens to lead 8-7.
“Right around that time someone said it, someone said ‘dogfight’ and that became the word of the day,” related G.W. Graham head coach Luke Acheson.
“In fact, we’ve been saying ‘dogfight’ a bunch this season because the word gets us excited. We’ve been in a bunch of them this season, and we never lost any of them.”
It is, of course, another word to describe the tight, grinding, punch-counterpunch type of battle which unfolded at B.C. Place Stadium as a fitting finale to the 2021 B.C. high school football season.
Final score: G.W. Graham 36 Terry Fox 33.
The victory not only dashed Terry Fox’s hopes of completing a perfect 11-0 season and annexing its first season-ending Subway Bowl title since 2016, it gave G.W. Graham its first-ever senior varsity football title in its first season of play at the Triple A level.
The Grizzlies led 23-16 at the half, before the Ravens got to within four points in the third quarter, and then three points in the fourth before running out of time.
And through its post-game dissection, what is mostly revealed are the traits which allowed these two Eastern Conference programs to be the last two standing in 2021.
In Terry Fox’s corner, it’s time-honoured tradition of team toughness, measured in the swollen broken right knuckle of linebacker Alex Gagnon, a knuckle seemingly turning more purple by second, he along with others on the team, attempted to fill the massive void left in the offensive backfield after senior Gavin Whittingham was taken to the hospital after suffering what is believed to be a serious shoulder or collarbone injury early on its opening drive of the game.
“That changes our game,” said Ravens’ head coach Tom Kudaba. “He is a home run threat and he had a dislocated shoulder, so no way he was going to come back. That is bad luck… one our linemen missed a block, the guy beat him inside and he just used his weight and fell on top of Gavin in a bad way.”
In G.W. Graham’s instance, it was its brand of defence, superbly schemed but always playing with an added emotional edge that seemed to impact every other part of its team.
“Our D has played outstanding all year, our identity is our D and today, our offence showed up and was able to score those points,” said Acheson. ‘But it’s been big D all year and they showed up again today.”
In fact it’s tough to not to argue that the turning point of the game came with 2:30 remaining on the clock and Terry Fox trailing 36-33.
The Ravens had gone backwards to the tune of fourth-and-20 at the 50-yard line, and although quarterback Owen Sieben and receiver Mathieu Gale were just shy of making magic at the 23-yard line following a narrow incompletion, the Grizzlies’ defence held.
“We gambled on the fourth down, we were going to punt it because we had two time outs left,” said Kudaba of the play, “but then we said, ‘We’re either going to hold them here, or down there if we don’t make it.’ We ended up having to hold them (from the 50-yard line) but we never got the ball back.”
The one unique difference Saturday?
When Kudaba was asked what the biggest difference between the team his Ravens beat 34-0 back on Oct. 22 in Coquitlam, and the one which beat his team on Saturday, just 44 days later, he didn’t hesitate.
“This time the quarterback seemed to put the ball where the receivers could catch it a lot better than the first game,” he said.
It was pretty clear to see that the Grizzlies’ 5-foot-7, 150-pound Grade 11 quarterback Lucas Feaver, a promising second violin within a G,W. Graham orchestra filled with others more used to getting the spotlight, had improved to the point where on this night, he was indeed the worthy selection as championship game MVP.
Feaver’s 36-yard TD strike to Josh Caverly put the Grizzlies’ first six points of the night on the scoreboard, then the Flutie-like fire-pot book-ended his night with a 37-yard touchdown hook-up with Tyson Kelly in which he found the receiver in a perfect soft spot within the Ravens’ defence, delivered it, then watched as Kelly ran the final 20 yards for what would be the winning touchdown.
“It’s gone up like crazy,” Feaver himself said of how more confidence he had Saturday versus that earlier game against Terry Fox. “I had a tough game the last time I played them, but after that, I think everyone, including myself, really evolved. Today, everything felt right.”
And it wasn’t just the touchdown passes, it was everything else he did, like standing in against the Fox blitz and just generally making the kinds of throws that got all of his receivers involved.
“Lucas Feaver’s development this year has just skyrocketed,” confirmed Acheson, “and I think it kind of started with the loss to Terry Fox… I think there was a focus that came to the entire team with that loss. They understood that we had a lot of work to do on this side of hard to get to where we wanted to get. Lucas just kept his head down in film study after every game. I am so proud of him because he did everything he could do today to lead this group.”
Running back Gage O’Neill also played a huge role in the victory, most notably taking a lateral from Feaver and throwing a beautiful 49-yard touchdown pass to Caverly for a 30-16 lead.
Earlier in the game, he and fellow running back Sam Mannes had rushed for back-to-back scores, Mannes’ coming from about three yards out with 4:33 left in the half to tie the score 16-16, and Mannes going 42 yards for his major to make it 23-16 at the break.
Terry Fox’s scoring?
Uber-talented Ravens’ quarterback Owen Sieben showed his ability to re-frame his throwing motion in tight quarters, escaping pressure outside the pocket, then somehow squaring his shoulders enough to fire a make-shift 20-yard TD strike to Isaiah Cooper whose own ability to extend a route found him coming open at the goal line.
Fox running back Xyon Fleary spun out of tackle to score on a three-yard run for 13-8 Ravens lead, Sieben hit receiver Mathieu Gale on a picture-perfect 65-yard TD strike to pull his team to within 30-23 in the third quarter, and in the fourth, Gagnon wrapped up the scoring when he bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out. Ravens’ kicker Sebastian Cuesta hit on field goals of 35 and 30 yards.
After the game, G.W. Graham head coach Luke Acheson spotted his old junior football coach Jerry Mulliss on the B.C. Place turf and greeted him with a huge hug.
“Yep, I’m just an old centre from the Abbotsford Air Force… this kid who was most likely to do nothing in life, from Mississauga, Ontario,” Acheson would recollect just moments later, attempting to scale the size of the moment into something not quite so overwhelming.
“You know, it’s a pleasure to lead these young men,” he continued of his players, all still milling about the field, looking for more people to hug and taking pictures with each other in every imaginable combination.
“They teach me more than I could ever teach them. They make me a better human every day.”
When you add that as the icing to Subway Bowl’s six 11-man championship final games, all decided by a touchdown or less as the finale to a post-season which seems beyond compare, we can all say, with smiles re-affirmed, how much we missed the games, and how much they really matter.
Vancouver College 15 Notre Dame 8
COASTAL AA JUNIOR
John Barsby 34 Carson Graham 28
COASTAL AAA JUNIOR
St. Thomas More 7 Vancouver College 3
INTERIOR/NORTHERN AA/AAA HYBRID
Kelowna 21 Vernon 20
COASTAL AA SENIOR
Carson Graham 40 Robert Bateman 38 (OT)
COASTAL AAA SENIOR
G.W. Graham 36 Terry Fox 33
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