VANCOUVER — Their preseason No. 1 ranking shocked many, and with good reason.
Yes, respect must be accorded the defending AAA champions, but Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens came into the 2017 season with so many seniors of influence having departed via graduation that in order for them to even begin to live up to that ranking, they would have to have a core group of seven or eight unproven players all step up and play as if their inexperience was no impediment.
As unlikely a gambit as that may have seemed, simply watching them take to the field in Saturday’s Subway Bowl AAA semifinal was a good indication that sometimes all that stuff about youth being served can been thrown out the window.
How could you not think just that as you watched a formerly anonymous Grade 11 running back named Cade Cote take a handoff and blaze his way 84 yards through the St. Thomas More Knights’ defence for a touchdown 51 seconds before the half.
Cote, a rugby player and a kid still learning a lot of the innate aspects of tackle football, made it 13-0 Terry Fox, and then continued to be a catalyst in a fourth quarter of ball-control offence as the Ravens made their way back to the Subway Bowl final with a 28-21 win over the No. 2-ranked and favoured Knights.
“We never discounted this season,” said Ravens’ head coach Martin McDonnell after the win propelled his team into this coming Saturday’s finale against No. 1 New Westminster. “But we came in with really young guys and I am happy for them because they toughed it out. We’ve had a few injuries over the year and when you lose a couple, it’s hard to stay focused. We’re not thinking about next year until after next week, but you have to think a little bit, that players like Jevaun and so many other tough kids are Grade 11s.”
Jevaun, of course is Jevaun Jacobsen, the Grade 11 quarterback, who on Saturday capped the two most important scoring drives of Terry Fox’s season.
Jacobsen, with 4:17 left in the third quarter, scored on a 10-yard run to put the Ravens on top 21-7.
Although STM quarterback Dario Ciccone was able to get that one back early in the fourth quarter when he found his way into the end zone from four yards out, it was Jacobsen’s one-yard major with 3:46 remaining, capping a clock-eating fourth-quarter drive that not only put the defending champs up 21-7, but came late enough in the contest that the Knights’ best efforts to rally were placed in severe jeopardy.
David Osho did manage to turn a catch from Ciccone into a 75-yard touchdown to pull his team to within seven with 2:25 left.
However their ensuing onside kick failed and the Ravens were able to come away with the win, scoring more points against the vaunted Knights’ defence one night than the Burnaby squad had allowed in the last month combined.
Both teams did their best to cope with injuries.
STM felt the sting especially hard on the defensive end where a less-than-100-percent Tyler Eckert did his best in a defence-only role, and star tackle Sam Steele was forced out of the game with an injury.
Terry Fox lost RB-1 Jaden Severy early in the second half as he pulled a hamstring shutting down a Knights’ slant play.
All of that magnified the next-man-up mantra and, as the Ravens hung on to pull the upset, shone the spotlight squarely on a player like Cote, whose tough-as-nails performance in the second half helped keep the sticks moving down the field and eating up the valuable resource of time.
“Jaden was our go-to back but with him being injured, I knew what Cade could do,” said McDonnell. “I have seen Cade play rugby and although he hasn’t played a lot of rugby and is maybe not as skilled (as Severy), he is a slasher… a guy who runs really hard and is starting to clean up a lot of stuff. Some of the technical things he’s not great at, but he is a baller. He just runs really hard and that is what you need. You don’t need guys dancing in the hole.”
The Ravens had opened the scoring in the first quarter off a five-yard run by Pierce Ormiston.
The Knights didn’t get onto the scoreboard until the third quarter when Ciccone set up his own two-yard keeper with a 23-yard pass to Connor Hayek.
Terry Fox has won one AA title (1989) and three AAA titles (2006, 2008, 2016) but Saturday’s meeting against New Westminster is the program’s first opportunity ever to repeat as champions.
The Hyacks are making their first-ever finals appearance.
The Abbotsford Panthers will face North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes in the AA final.
Abbotsford has not won the B.C. title since the tiering era began in 1988. Their only title came in 1984.
Windsor has won six B.C. AA titles, the first in 1995 and the last in 2005. The Dukes last played for the title in 2009.
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