Welcome back to Varsity Letters’ Big 5 weekend preview.
Today, we look at the top games being played Friday and Saturday in the world of B.C. high school football.
It’s taken a few weeks, but now we’re right into the thick of AAA conference games.
(All records indicated are conference records, all rankings are last week’s. New rankings will be released on Thursday.)
3 p.m. — Notre Dame Jugglers (0-1) at No. 4 Mt. Douglas Rams (0-1)
BURNABY — There is no time to feel sorry for yourself if you’re coming off of a loss because the dominoes will be stacked against you even more severely, especially in the Western Conference.
The Jugglers opened 2-0, but were toppled 35-15 by Seaquam last Friday, and now with No. 4 Mt. Douglas playing the host role, Notre Dame is getting the first true first test of its resiliency.
“I think that all players, regardless of experience level, need to understand the unique challenges presented by each week of the season,” said head coach Denis Kelly. “In our case, as with many teams, these challenges revolve around injuries. We have a very tough league schedule and very few if any teams will go through the season unscathed by injury. You have to be able to adjust to your current situation and do your best to compensate for the loss. The health and well-being of your players is paramount especially in light of current controversy around the dangers of football.”
Injuries are indeed a part of the game, and Mt. Douglas has not had its star quarterback Gideone Kremler since the start of the season.
Kelly has appreciated the way Mt. Douglas head coach Mark Townsend has handled the situation, keeping his Rams engaged in the daily task of self-improvement without the self-pity.
“Mark has definitely taken the high ground regarding his injured star QB,” Kelly commented. “You don’t hear him making comments about how unfortunate this is. He stresses work ethic and rallying his troops to perform each week.”
3:15 p.m. — W.J. Mouat Hawks (0-1) at Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers (1-0)
SURREY — After a tough loss to Vancouver College, one which knocked them out of the rankings, Lord Tweedsmuir’s Panthers answered back this past week with a decisive 48-0 win over Kelowna’s Mt. Boucherie Bears.
Now, with a hungry young group of Mouat Hawks coming to Cloverdale on Friday afternoon, Panthers’ co-head coach Kurt Thornton appreciates the bounce-back trait his team showed against the Bears. A win Friday means a 2-0 start to its Eastern Conference campaign.
“Right after the VC game, our coaching staff knew we had players, some who are very talented, who didn’t follow the game plan,” began Thornton earlier this week. “We had issues with mis-alignment and missed assignments in all three phases that were big factors in the loss. The challenge to the players for the Boucherie game was to buy into the game plan. Do things the way we teach them to be done and do them to the best of your ability and we will be successful.”
With far less blown assignments and a 172-yard, three touchdown performance from running back Derek Best, Lord Tweedsmuir looked much more like the team which opened the season at No. 5 in the preseason AAA rankings in its win over Mt. Boucherie.
And it’s a bonus that an abundance of Grade 11 talent is coming to the fore.
Addison Sadler has looked like one of the Panthers best two-way linemen and he might have been their best defensive player in the loss to Vancouver College.
And while Best has been among the province’s very best runners, Grade 11 Braeden Hutchinson has put up similar numbers, showcasing his ability to hit the hole hard and to find the end zone.
“Our grade 11s continue to improve and have started to assume some of the starting roles,” admits Thornton who also mentioned Kojo Odoom, Jaden Simon and Josef Drysdale as part of a young group of up-and-coming talent. “Many contribute in specific packages or on special teams.”
3:45 p.m. — Seaquam Seahawks (1-0) at Carson Graham Eagles (0-1)
Two programs that had spent considerable time in recent seasons at the Double A tier are making some Triple A noise these days, and on Friday they clash with each other.
Seaquam head coach Navin Chand admits the early success enjoyed by his Seahawks at the higher tier has stoked the team’s belief system.
“The team’s level of confidence is definitely growing,” he said. “We were expecting to play Double A this year but our school numbers increased to a point where we had to go Triple A. In preparation of Triple A, we preached to the kids that the big difference is preparation for games and mindset.
“The coaches and players are reviewing film constantly to insure that we are prepared for games,” he added, noting that Josh Haydu, Tyson Philpot, Jalen Philpot, Gavin Murray and Dedaar Jhooty additionally represented Team B.C. in the Canada Cup, which took place over the summer in Nova Scotia this past summer.
Carson Graham head coach Brian Brady adds that young teams like his must also make adjustments as they move into the more urgent environment of conference play.
“In the regular season there is definitely a feeling of more urgency,” Brady explained earlier this week. “Each play is important and a player needs to put their previous play behind them whether it be positive or negative. In my experience, a lot of Grade 11s try to force a play like they may have in JV and that can backfire and result in a loss or turnover. At varsity, playing in a competitive conference, turnovers win games, so ball security supersedes risking things to gain an extra yard or two.”
The Carson Graham defence will have its hands full against an explosive, big-play Seaquam offence that seems to hit football’s version of home runs with great regularity.
“We definitely realize that we have some special players that can dominate in all phases of the game,” Chand began. “That being said, the team’s ultimate success is being able to work together to block, tackle, maintain discipline and commit less turnovers than our opposition. We are a bit unpredictable at times in terms of play selection. In obvious run situations, we may pass and in passing situations we may run.”
5 p.m. — Kelowna Owls (0-1) at No. 1 Terry Fox Ravens (1-0)
The host and No. 1-ranked Ravens go in as big favourites, but the Owls, by the nature of their aggressive offensive ways, demand your attention.
That’s what Ravens’ head coach Martin McDonnell said earlier this week after studying film of the Owls in preparation for their Eastern Conference clash at Coquitlam’s Percy Perry Stadium.
“They have a true philosophy and that is to throw the ball,” said McDonnell, whose secondary will have to be at the ready. “It’s completely opposite of what we do.
“They throw it whether they are at your on-yard line or their own one-yard line.”
The Ravens will look to throw a blanket over Kelowna receiver Blaise Beauchemin.
“I think their No. 7 (Beauchemin) has caught 40 balls already this season,” quipped McDonnell. “I am hoping that this will play into the strength of our secondary.”
After a 28-0 loss to St. Thomas More last week, Owls’ head coach Chris Cartwright stressed that his team needed to come back with a new resolve this week.
“Football is about having the right attitude to compete,” said Cartwright. “We as a team are working on character to be able to be successful on the field. It’s a process. There is no doubt that we can compete with anyone in our conference, but the attitude from players will determine that.”
1:30 p.m. — No. 2 New Westminster Hyacks (1-0) at No. 5 Vancouver College Fighting Irish (0-1)
On the heels of its 25-9 loss to Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs in its Western Conference opener last Friday, Fighting Irish head coach Todd Bernett said that his team must bring an added level of focus against No. 2 New Westminster.
“This week we will be looking for an identity of edginess and competitiveness,” said Bernett. “Our conference is relentless, and if you come out flat and don’t play with a purpose anyone can beat anyone.”
The keys to beating a Hyacks team which has not yet lost in-province this season?
“Aligning properly against their formations and having the discipline to read blocks, not chase where you think the ball is,” said Bernett of the New Westminster wing-t formation. “Offensively we must not turn the ball over, which has quite simply plagued us all season.”
With all of its tradition, going into O’Hagan can be tough for many teams, but to Hyacks’ head coach Farahan Lalji, it’s more the readiness of the Vancouver College teams that is a factor.
“I’m less concerned about playing at O’Hagan and more concerned with how well-coached the Irish teams always are,” he said. “The fact that most of their kids practice and play one-way essentially allows them to prepare twice as much as any other team against our offense, so their techniques and systems are always sound. And generally speaking, they always tackle well and flow to the ball well, so any success we have will have to be earned. They won’t make mistakes, so we can’t afford to make our own in all three phases.”
And while New Westminster’s offence, as well as its return teams, have provided some fireworks already this season, there have been some very positive signs along its defence as well.
“I think our safety play has been very solid,” Lalji said when asked about an emerging area of his defence. “Both Severio Asaba and Arjun Bal have been positionally sound and both have been very good with adjustments and assignments. I know there is always a lot of focus on Sammy (Sidhu), Sebastien (Reid) and our D-line, but we “bust” in the back end very little and that’s because of those two and the fact that their tackling has prevented the big play.”
And that comment from Bernett on the relentless nature of the West this season?
Lalji echoes it.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. “I recall there was a time a few years back where the East felt it was the tougher conference, but even then there were some weaker teams. This year in the West, top to bottom, it’s a dogfight every week. Belmont showed it last week, that any team can beat any other on any given weekend. I believe eight of the top 10 teams in B.C. are in the West and hopefully our depth will help us get through it.”
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