NEW WESTMINSTER —You’ve got to first be a grinder if you want to be a game-breaker.
If you needed proof of what is surely a playoff football axiom, you saw it as the second half of the 2017 Subway Bowl quarterfinal clash between Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams and the host New Westminster Hyacks unfolded on Friday at Mercer Stadium.
The easy math would dictate running back Sammy Sidhu’s 74-yard touchdown run, which capped the Hyacks’ first drive of the third quarter, as the play which turned the game’s momentum in favour of the Royal City favourites.
But back the snaps up on the same drive to a grinding, blue-collar 15-yard gain on third-and-four in which the compact but powerful Sidhu gave a clinic in leg-churning persistence, and you find the true juncture at which B.C.’s No. 1-ranked AAA team re-discovered their gridiron DNA en route to what was a hard-fought 19-14 victory.
Mt. Douglas had received the football to start the second half, and although they marched inside the New West five-yard line, came up empty.
That brought even more momentum to the Hyacks’ cause.
“We have a number of other explosive players, but we’re never afraid to get behind Sammy and just lean on him,” said Hyacks’ head coach Farhan Lalji of his senior, who also scored on a seven-yard run to open the scoring in the second quarter, and finished his day with 16 carries for 172 yards.
“After we opened (the second-half) by stopping them inside our five, Sammy must have dragged defenders another 10 yards after contact,” continued Lalji of the aforementioned play. “That was a real emotional turning point for us and it really got our guys into the game.”
The Rams were certainly the scariest of the lower-seeded teams left in the provincial draw by virtue of the fact that they began to peak late in the conference season with the return to health of Grade 11 quarterback Gideone Kremler.
On Friday, the Rams, as anticipated were every bit the Hyacks’ rival.
Kremler’s command of the offence had to be respected by New Westminster, and the Rams’ defence, for the greater part of the opening two quarters, took the air out of the Hyacks’ explosive offence.
First, the Rams’ Dante Carbone intercepted New Westminster quarterback Kinsale Philip at the one-yard line to take a Hyacks’ TD away from intended target Broxx Comia.
However, on the very next series, New Westminster’s ball-hawking Grade 10 defensive back Taran Birdi did likewise to Kremler, returning a pick 30 yards to set up Sidhu’s first major of the game.
“In the first half, we just weren’t getting enough going but we scored because of that (interception) and the defence sparked the offence,” said Lalji of Birdi’s pick, his seventh of the campaign.
The Rams got the football back in the late stages of the first half and promptly marched, scoring on Kremler’s short keeper to knot the score 7-7 at the break.
The Hyacks, riding the momentum of Sidhu’s lengthy second-half TD, answered with another when Lucas Sabau scored on a 70-yard run for a 19-7 lead.
Mt. Douglas added another touchdown to make things close later in the second half when Krmeler threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Connor Clarke.
“The biggest thing we talked about at halftime was to go have some fun,” said Lalji. “We are better when we are loose, and I told the guys that at this time of the year, this is big-boy football.
“We knew it was going to be a pick ‘em game. We never thought we would run away and hide. We found a way to gut it and get a tough win.”
Nothing was easy this season for the Rams, who didn’t get Kremler back under centre until midway through the campaign.
Once he got his groove back, however, the Hyacks knew Mt. Douglas was going to be their toughest out yet.
“We are very proud of our players for the way they battled right to the final whistle today against a very talented New West team,” said Rams’ head coach Mark Townsend. “Our players gave relentless effort today, and left everything on the field which is all we can ask of these great young men.”
Added Lalji: “I have always said that the thing I admire most about them is that they play their best at this time of the year. They have blown teams out in the playoffs and we were very conscious of that. It’s their DNA to be peaking at the right time.”
Comia led New Westminster with seven tackles, while Kinsale Philp and Birdi added five apiece. Both Birdi and Sebastien Reid collected interceptions.
Zairech Kremler was the leading Rams’ rusher with 70 yards on the ground on 9ninecarries. Gideone Kremler finished 22-of-39 for 273 yards and one TD pass. A host of receivers had solid performances including Zairech Kremler with six receptions for 71 yards, Sebastian Hansen with six catches for 67 yards, Hayden Naylor with five catches for 59 yards and Dante Carbone with four catches for 51 yards.
The Rams defense was led by Soren Hallschmid and Hansen who each registered eight tackles in the game, followed by Zairech Kremler with seven tackles and Ben Pierik with five tackles and a sack.
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