With the O'Hagan Field scoreboard behind him telling the story, Vancouver College running back Tommy Carvalho finds the end zone against North Vancouver's Carson Graham Eagles for the first scoring play of not only a new season of B.C. high school football, but the first since the pandemic halted play across our province in all sports in March of 2020. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Football

Varsity Letters’ 09.02.21 B.C. High School Football Report ‘Welcome Back’ edition: No. 1 Fighting Irish top Carson in return-to-play game!

VANCOUVER — In the long history of B.C. high school sports, you won’t find an institution which honours its history, heritage and longevity with more aplomb than Vancouver College.

With all of that in mind, as provincial inter-school competition took its first official steps since the beginning of the Covid lockdown in March of 2020 with the dawning of a new high school football season, it seemed all too fitting that it took place on Thursday afternoon under sunny blue skies at O’Hagan Field, home of the Fighting Irish.

No. 1 Triple A Vancouver College, the defending B.C. Subway Bowl champions, lived up to their ranking and more following a 56-6 win over North Vancouver’s visiting, Double A No. 4-ranked Carson Graham Eagles.

Here’s what the grand re-opening of high school football looked like 1 pm Thursday at Vancouver College as the Fighting Irish’s Mattias Eastman kicks off against Carson Graham. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Looking as dominant as when we last saw them, winning the 2019 Triple A title in late November of that season at B.C. Place Stadium, the Irish seemed at times invincible, a statement which was ably backed by the fact that en route to a decisive victory, it averaged 13.3 yards over just 32 offensive snaps.

Veteran Irish head coach Todd Bernett, however, put the day in an entirely more important perspective.

“The best part about it is not just that we played a game, but that we have something to look forward to,” he said. “We’re in a routine and that is something we all needed. As good as this was, now we’re waiting for our next experience. It’s the routine part of it that is the most important thing.”

Vancouver College football coach Todd Bernett welcomed his Fighting Irish back to the field following the pandemic Sept. 2, 2021 vs. Carson Graham at O’Hagan Field. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

The Irish, in fact, made things look routine, making the kind of plays they needed to make early to steal the momentum from a Carson Graham team which has a lot of talent of its own.

Grade 12 defensive back Iain St. Arnault had one of those storybook senior varsity debuts, picking off a pass on the Eagles’ game-opening possession, but keeping his best for last.

The field-flipping theft set up Vancouver College at the Carson Graham 34-yard line, and on the Irish’s first offensive snap of the season, running back Tommy Carvalho took a hand-off from quarterback Alex Zychlinski straight to the end zone.

Vancouver College led 7-0 as kicker Mattias Eastman made his first of eight straight point-after attempts.

From there, the Eagles’ lost starting senior quarterback Tanner McClure to an injury, and Grade 10 replacement Liam Marshall and the rest of the Eagles did their best to try and stem the tide of a Vancouver College onslaught.

Isaac Antilla and Chris Joseph scored on runs of eight and 13 yards respectively for a 21-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Then, the defence came up big again, this time defensive end Jack Proctor scooping up a fumble and taking it 10 yards for a score and a 28-0 lead.

Midway through the second quarter, Antilla added his second rushing major, this time from eight yards for a 35-0 lead.

Carson Graham was able to answer, however, as Marshall found senior receiver Adrian Nemeth on a masterfully-executed 64-yard touchdown strike, one which came with a missed two-point convert attempt.

Carson Graham quarterback Liam Marshall (right) unloads a pass with Vancouver College linebacker Colm Kent in hot pursuit Sept. 2 at O’Hagan Field. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

VC’s Zychlinski, who finished 9-of-14 for 164 yards and two touchdowns, threw for back-to-back majors (30 yards, 32 yards), each to 6-foot-3 Grade 11 wideout Michael Joseph, for a 49-6 halftime lead.

After a scoreless third quarter, St. Arnault came up with his second pick of the game, this time taking it 76 yards to the end zone with a handful of minutes remaining to make the 56-6 final complete.

“I has no idea what to expect,” Bernett said of his team’s performance. “I had no point of comparison of how good we may or may not be. I’m still not sure I do.

“I am just happy we made a lot of big plays early and we had momentum, and in this situation where everyone must feel a little uncertain, that was obviously a huge factor… to have early momentum.”

Vancouver College running back Isaac Antilla carries would-be Carson Graham tacklers over the goal line for a first-quarter touchdown Sept. 2 at O’Hagan Field. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

The balance in the Irish offence was box-stuffing adventure for any statistician.

Highlights included running backs Grayson Frers and Carvalho combining for 139 yards, each with three carries, and each averaging 23 yards-per-tote; Lachlan Scardina with a team-leading six tackles, as well as an interception; and the rushing attack overall averaging 11.8 yards per carry.

“Vancouver College was in mid-season form,” said Carson Graham head coach Brian Brady. “But I was really proud of some of the younger players who stepped up with limited game experience today. It will be important to have a growth mindset take some important lessons from this experience.”

Marshall finished the day 11-of-20 for 108 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He also carried seven times for 43 yards.

On defence, Dylan Seller came out of the secondary to register five tackles and an interception while linebacker Ashton Fink had six tackles.

The Irish are back at O’Hagan Field on Sept. 10, hosting the Kelowna Owls. Carson Graham faces Handswoth the same day in its annual Buchanan Bowl crosstown rivalry game.

NOTE — The Thursday game between St. Thomas More and Earl Marriott, and Friday’s Mt. Douglas vs. Centennial game are not being run as actual games, but as scrimmages. No game reports will be issued for those two contests.

If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at howardtsumura@gmail.com.

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