Bulldogs winless but dangerous
High school football team competitive despite two losses in tough Carr conference
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013 06:00 am
The plucky Bellerose Bulldogs have more moral victories than wins this year in high school football.
The only St. Albert team in the super-sized Carr conference after the merger of Edmonton’s metro and public leagues lost 21-0 to the Salisbury Sabres in Sherwood Park and 22-12 to the Harry Ainlay Titans at Clarke Park despite strong showings in both games.
“Not many people actually expected us to be in any of the games we’ve played,” said Nick Cowan, a Grade 11 linebacker and kicker. “We’ve showed up and punched them in the mouth pretty early on defence and the offence is slowly picking itself up.”
The Tier I (1,250-plus student population) team of Bellerose and Sturgeon high players is competing in a conference with six of its eight teams in the Football Alberta top-10 rankings: No. 2 Jasper Place Rebels (2-0), No. 4 Spruce Grove Panthers (2-0), No. 6 Harry Ainlay (1-1), No. 7 Salisbury (2-0) and No. 9 Bev Facey Falcons (1-1) in Tier I and No. 4 Austin O’Brien Crusaders (1-1) in Tier II (750 to 1,249 students).
“It feels like pro football,” Cowan said.
Last year, before Jasper Place, Spruce Grove (Tier I provincial finalists), Harry Ainlay and the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds (0-2) from the public league joined the metro ranks, Bellerose finished 6-3 overall as Carr semifinalists.
“It’s a little bit different this year. We know all the teams in our league are really good instead of just having a few games where you know you could win. Now you have to fight for every single win. It’s a lot more fun to say the least,” said Grade 12 defensive end Dean Ciampanelli.
Field general Chad Hill is confident Bellerose will turn its fortunes around to make the top-six playoff cut.
“This is as good as any Bulldogs’ team I have coached in the last six years. However, our win/loss record doesn’t reflect that now. We’re in the most competitive league possible but I firmly believe we can and will have success and it starts at practice,” Hill stressed.
The players are also upbeat.
“We’re not discouraged at all. Both games have been really close and we’ve been getting better,” Ciampanelli said. “Ainlay was a way better game for us. Our offence put it together and our defence shut down their offence pretty much. They only had a few big plays.”
Bellerose was within striking distance of victory with time ticking down in both contests.
“They've been really close games, we just haven't been able to put it together in the fourth quarter,” Ciampanelli said. “Our game against Ainlay was 15-12 in the fourth quarter and we just couldn't finish it. We haven't been able to close out games.”
In the league opener Bellerose struggled offensively against Salisbury but the defence was rock solid and gave up only one touchdown from the one-yard line. In the opening quarter Salisbury returned a fumble from inside the Bellerose 10 for its first TD and in the third quarter ran back a punt into the endzone for its second TD.
Friday night against Ainlay the defence generated two fourth-quarter turnovers to give Bellerose a chance to tie or win.
Bellerose also stopped Ainlay twice on third and one in the first half and on both plays Ciampanelli and Cowan combined on tackles in the backfield. One of the stops was at the Bellerose two.
“We’ve been doing everything really well on defence. We’ve been making our tackles. The first guy there gets him and there are no broken tackles and no big gains. Everything has been one or two yards at a time,” said Ciampanelli, 17, the senior Bulldogs’ rookie of the year in 2012.
“Defensively we’ve been solid for the entire year giving up probably about four big plays in the two games,” Cowan added.
In the first quarter Bellerose opened the scoring after forcing Ainlay to go two-and-out to start the game. Mike Buchamer’s one-yard TD run capped off a 60-yard drive. Three different backs – Buchamer, Jackson Ryan and Tyler Feltis – gained yards and quarterback Matty Short ran for a key first down. The convert was unsuccessful because of a botched snap and hold.
Late in the second quarter Ainlay picked off a Short pass and returned it to inside the Bellerose 30 to set up the Titans’ first TD to lead 7-6.
On the next drive a quarterback sack caused a fumble and Ainlay recovered it in Bellerose territory. Ainlay’s second TD made it 14-6 in the last minute before halftime.
On the first play in the fourth quarter, Ainlay was backed up at its two, but a roughing the passer call gave the Titans better field position. Ainlay eventually settled for a 45-yard punt single to lead by nine.
Bellerose replied with a six-yard TD run by Ryan. On the two-point conversion, Dylan Shorten almost pulled off a circus catch.
With 2:54 remaining, defensive end Kirk Robinson fell on a fumble at midfield, but Bellerose was unable to turn it into points. A quarterback sack forced a turnover on downs with 1:50 to play.
Ainlay went on to grind out some inside runs and with 26 seconds to play huddled up at the Bellerose 30, On first down Ainlay ran the ball into the endzone as some Bellerose defenders assumed the Titans would take a knee to end the game.
“I have probably never taken a regular season loss this hard. We had several opportunities to win,” said Hill, noting Bellerose botched field goal attempts in the third quarter and failed to capitalize on a Trevor Rosaasen pick early in the last quarter.
The first home game for Bellerose is Thursday against Facey, the two-time defending Carr champions. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Riel Recreation Park. Admission is $5.
“They’re one of the top contenders in the league and so we’ve got to go out there and punch them in the mouth like we have against the teams in the other games,” said Cowan, 16.
The six-foot-four Bulldog is among several juniors from the undefeated 2012 metro premier conference championship team playing senior this year.
“They’re filling the shoes big time for the guys that we’ve lost and have excelled,” said Cowan, the junior Bulldogs’ outstanding defensive player last year.