BURNABY — When you put together a 15-game win streak dating back to the end of the 2016 season like the New Westminster Hyacks (4-2, 3-1) had, and along that journey, you win a provincial title, you know it’s going to take a special effort from the opposition to beat you.
On Friday, that’s precisely what the host Notre Dame Jugglers (5-1, 3-1) were able to muster in a game in which they blew a 12-point third quarter lead, yet somehow managed to force a fumble that led to a 90-yard game-winning drive as the clock expired.
Final score: Notre Dame 38 New Westminster 35.
“This was truly a great spectacle,” said Notre Dame head coach Denis Kelly, who not only saw his starting quarterback Will Clarke score the game-winning touchdown off a five-yard scramble on the game’s final play, but witnessed his team not only go 9-of-16 on third down, but a perfect 5-of-5 on fourth down.
“It was a tremendous game and despite the loss it was great to be a part of,” said New Westminster head coach Farhan Lalji, whose team last lost to a B.C. foe in the Subway Bowl 2016 semifinals at B.C.Place.
The team which beat them that day? The Notre Dame Jugglers.
Back in 2016, it was Jugglers’ quarterback Steven Moretto who found a way to beat New Westminster.
On Friday at Burnaby Lakes, it was Clarke, the kid who stepped into Moretto’s shoes the next season as Grade 10 in 2017.
On Friday, Clarke passed for 148 yards and three touchdowns and a two-point convert, and also rushed for a pair of scores including the game winner.
Leading 35-32 with the game-clock winding down, New Westminster had the ball at the Notre Dame seven-yard line. Clarke, however, managed to strip the ball loose and a fumble recovery was made by Notre Dame defensive tackle Anthony Bolanos.
Teon Alexander-Amour made several big runs for first downs and Jerrell Cummings made what one official had originally signalled as a touchdown. In the end, Clarke capped the 93-yard drive, scrambling five yards to score the winning points on the final play of the game.
“You have to give Notre Dame credit,” added Lalji. “After we came back to take the lead and then forced a turnover we had all the momentum. They didn’t give up though and Will Clarke took the game over. Whenever they needed a play he made it.”
The realities of injury and health were stamped on the game.
While the Jugglers got back to being much more of who they are with the return of standout Cummings for the first time this season from a broken collarbone, the Hyacks were clearly not at full strength.
Starting quarterback Kinsale Philip did not play at all and could be lost to the team for up to a month. As well, top running back Broxx Comia was held out of the game altogether on offence, and only saw second-half action on defence.
With all of that said, the Hyacks rallied from a 32-20 third-quarter deficit by getting back-to-back rushing touchdowns from Grade 11 running back Greyson Planinsic.
Getting his first-ever senior varsity start, Planinsic was nothing shy of spectacular, rushing 15 times for 194 yards and tying the school’s single-game record by carrying for five touchdowns.
Planinsic’s fourth-quarter scores from two and five yards put the Hyacks on top 35-32.
As well, Grade 11 Payton Meyers stepped in to start at quarterback in place of Philip, who has suffered an injury in pre-game warm-ups against South Delta last week. The team was also without Grade 11 running back Austin Galbraith.
“I’m very proud of Greyson and Payton,” said Lalji. “They really stepped up and played well in their roles. For us, we will lament all of our turnovers. All of them led to touchdowns. And it was also our worst tackling game of the season.”
Clarke’s best performance as a varsity starter, combined with the return of Cummings and the breakout game of Teon Alexander-Amour’s career all conspired to make the Jugglers an imposing force.
Notre Dame opened the scoring on a picture-perfect 19-yard touchdown pass from Clarke to Cummings for a 6-0 lead as the Jugglers converted just one of their six majors on the night.
A Planinsic one-yard TD run tied it 6-6 before Clarke hit Alexander-Amour on a 15-yard screen pass for a 12-6 lead after the opening quarter.
Notre Dame extended the lead to 18-6 when the Jugglers mounted a long drive and capped it with a three-yard Alexander-Amour run.
Planinsic’s 72-yard touchdown run pulled the Hyacks to within 18-12 but then Clarke scrambled and hit Giancarlo Napoletano with a 10-yard touchdown pass which included a two-point covert, for a 26-12 lead.
Planinsic kept up his torrid pace for the Hyacks, rushing for a 21-yard TD and then adding a two-point convert of his own to make it 26-20 at halftime.
Clarke’s one-yard run was the only scoring play of the third quarter, and Notre Dame was looking good with a 32-20 lead heading into the final frame.
Planinsic’s two fourth-quarter scoring runs, however, changed the environment, setting the stage for the late Hyacks’ turnover and Clarke’s game winning drive.
“Will Clarke had one of the finest performances at quarterback in recent memory,” said Kelly. “Teon Alexander-Amour established himself as a premier running back tonight. And getting Jerrell Cummings back from a broken collarbone was a big key as well.”
New Westminster will host Vancouver College this Friday at Mercer Stadium, while the same day, Notre Dame plays in North Vancouver against Carson Graham.
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