Bulldogs win date with Skyhawks
Football rivals battle Tuesday in Carr conference semifinals
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 06:00 am
The stage is set for a special playoff edition of the Battle of St. Albert after the Bellerose Bulldogs pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in Thursday’s must-win football game to end the regular season.
The Bulldogs roared back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit to defeat the Austin O’Brien Crusaders 24-21 on a snowy Thursday night at Riel Recreation Park.
The most dramatic Bellerose win of the season clinched a semifinal showdown with the archrival St. Albert High Skyhawks in the metro Edmonton league’s Carr conference.
“It’s a great, great feeling to play our crosstown rivals again. You can’t ask for anything better,” said a beaming Ryan Shorten, the ringleader of the Bellerose defence at linebacker.
Tuesday’s confrontation kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Clarke Park. Admission is $5.
The winner will play the Bev Facey Falcons (8-0) or AOB (4-4) in Saturday’s final at 2:30 p.m. at Foote Field.
“We’re now in a position to win a championship. That’s something we want and we have it in the palm of our hands, so don’t let it slide away from you,” head coach Chad Hill told the Bulldogs in the post-game huddle. “The second half of football we played (tonight) has got to be our brand of football. You bring that intensity and that drive next week, good things will happen, but it can’t be the team that we saw for the last two and a half weeks. It’s got to be the team we saw in the second half.”
The Bulldogs and Skyhawks finished 6-2 in the standings. The Skyhawks placed second on the strength of last month’s 14-13 decision against the Bulldogs in the 10th annual Battle of St. Albert. The Bulldogs gassed a 13-point second-half lead and with 1:34 remaining Connor Hughes missed a 34-yard field goal on third down and five.
“We’re very excited to play them again. We want payback against our crosstown rivals,” said Josh Dobbins, the backup Bellerose quarterback who rallied the team to victory Thursday with an impressive performance running the offence.
The Skyhawks closed out the regular season by whipping the winless Archbishop Jordan Scots 44-0 Thursday in Sherwood Park. Game breakers Keith Zyla and Brendan Thera-Plamondon scored multiple touchdowns for the sixth-ranked Tier III team in Alberta.
“It should be an excellent game,” Hill said. “The Skyhawks' offence is dynamic. They have a few players that can score from anywhere on the field.”
The last time the Bulldogs and Skyhawks butted heads in the playoffs was the 2004 Miles conference semifinal. The Skyhawks won 39-3.
Playoffs on the line
The Bulldogs, ranked 10th in Tier I, needed to beat AOB for another shot at the Skyhawks, or their fate would have been decided by the tiebreaker rules for a playoff berth.
“We weren’t nervous at all. If we were, we wouldn’t have been able to come back in this game like we did,” Shorten said.
AOB, ranked sixth in Tier II as the defending provincial champion, scored on its second offensive series. The big play was a 73-yard run, setting up a five-yard TD in the opening quarter.
On the kickoff return, Tyler Thorsley bolted down the sideline before he was pushed out at the AOB 21. The Bulldogs would settle for a 17-yard field goal by Hughes with 59 seconds left until quarter time.
The teams exchanged punts in the second quarter, until AOB scored its second TD with a run from outside the Bellerose 30.
With 3:31 remaining until halftime, AOB recovered a Foster Rae fumble at the Bellerose 25 and scored on the next play.
Down by 18 points, the Bulldogs regrouped at their 27 and smartly moved the ball with Thorsley gaining good yardage. On second and 11 near midfield, Dobbins fired a bullet to Shorten, who lined up at slotback on the play, and he was dragged down at the AOB six. On third and goal from the two, Dobbins crossed the goal line with 13 seconds to play. The convert by Hughes cut the deficit to 21-10.
Second half surge
The Bulldogs buckled down defensively after a sloppy first half. Shorten, the team’s MVP last year, was moved from outside linebacker into the middle after AOB started running away from him early in the contest, but that didn’t stop the ferocious Grade 12 Bulldog from making tackles all over the field throughout the match.
“Defensively we had some weak points early on but we shut them down and played a lot better,” Shorten said.
In the third quarter, Jack Hanna led the defensive charge to stop AOB on third and five and Bellerose took over the ball at its 31. Dobbins quickly hooked up with Brad Delmas for a 35-yard reception in AOB territory, followed by a Ben Graunke run to the 32. A pass interference call against AOB, with Dobbins aiming for Shorten, put the ball at the 20. On third and 10, Dobbins delivered a perfect pass to Rae in the endzone with 1:42 left until quarter time. The two-point conversion pass was picked off.
“That offensive drive was unbelievable for us. You could definitely feel the movement swing our way,” said Shorten, 16.
The third quarter ended with a Liam Gray fumble recovery in the AOB backfield at the Bellerose 43.
After both teams took turns punting the ball, the Bulldogs started at their 42 and on second and 10 a screen pass to Graunke covered 27 yards. After an eight-yard gain by Thorsley, Graunke bolted down the middle to the 11 on a draw play. A few plays later, on first and goal from the one, Nick Svenson plowed through the defence to put the Bulldogs on top with 3:53 to play. He also snagged a two-point conversion throw from Dobbins after AOB was flagged for pass interference in the endzone on the first conversion attempt.
Dobbins, 16, played a major role in the comeback. The Grade 11 receiver and punter took over the quarterback duties in the second quarter to help jump-start the Bellerose offence that had grown stagnate in recent games. His ability to throw the deep ball made the AOB defence soften up a bit and opened up the run game more for Graunke and Thorsley.
“In the first half we weren’t doing that well. We were just slow off the ball. The offence wasn’t rolling like we wanted it to,” Dobbins said. “We then started calling better plays with the help of (the coaches) and our offence started moving the ball more and we executed.”
Pivotal defensive plays by Hanna and Gray late in the game in AOB territory sealed the deal.
“It didn’t look good for us early on in the game, but we came together as a team, played Bulldogs’ football and pulled it off and now we’re in the playoffs,” Dobbins said.