Bulldogs tackle Tier I playoffs

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Bellerose football team huddles up against Spruce Grove in metro Edmonton Tier I provincial qualifier Saturday at 11 a.m. at Johnny Bright Park

The Bellerose Bulldogs are licking their lips to right a wrong in Saturday’s rematch with the Spruce Grove Panthers.

The metro Edmonton Tier I provincial qualifier between the Carr conference division one foes kicks off at 11 a.m. at Johnny Bright Park.

The first tilt was a disappointing 15-7 loss for the Bulldogs on Oct. 21 in Spruce Grove.

“We’re pretty pumped for the game. We’re getting good and ready,” said Kyle Viczko, a Grade 12 linebacker. “We’ve played them so we know that they’re a hard-hitting team and they’re decently fast and we’ve just got to be faster and hit harder.”

A comedy of errors on both sides of the ball by the Bulldogs in the first half gave the Panthers the last laugh at the end of the game.

“We came out flat. We got off that bus not thinking it was game day. We didn’t have any fight in us, just nothing,” said Nick Allen, a Grade 12 centre and defensive end. “In the second half we came out wanting to play and that’s when we picked it up but it was a bit too late.

“This time we’ve got to come out ready to play. We’ve got to hit hard and execute our plays that we run in practice. We can’t be messing around at practice because we play like we practice so we’ve got to be 100 per cent all week.”

Mental errors, sloppy tackling in stretches and the inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities resulted in defeat against the Panthers’ crisp offence and stout defence.

“On defence we did all right but the offence needs to put some more points up,” Viczko said.

The Panthers (4-3-1, 148 PF/146 PA) placed third in the Carr standings and in the Football Alberta Tier I (school population 1,250-plus students) rankings are listed ninth.

“They’ve got some pretty well-coached linemen. Those boys know how to play. If we mess up they know how to capitalize on that,” Allen said. “Their offence is very good and well rounded and not just run heavy or pass heavy because they can do both.”

The Bulldogs (4-4, 130 PF/163 PA) tied for fifth with the Jasper Place Rebels after polishing off the last-place Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds 44-14 Friday at Clarke Park.

The tiebreaker with the Rebels – a come-from-behind 21-17 victory in league play – cemented the unranked Bulldogs as the fourth seed out of the top six Tier I teams in the nine-team Carr for the Championship Saturday playoffs to determine the three metro reps for the Tier I north semifinals Nov. 12.

The Rebels (4-4) will now lineup against the No. 4-ranked Harry Ainlay Titans (7-1) instead of the Panthers and the No. 1-ranked Bev Facey Falcons (8-0) will huddle up against the Salisbury Sabres (0-6-2).

“Beating Shep was definitely a big confidence booster for us in our season,” said Viczko, 18. “Offensively, Shep was our best game. Defensively, I would say Facey (45-1 loss) was. Facey was definitely the hardest game we played and it was to start off the season too.”

The Bulldogs scored on their opening drive against Shep (0-7-1), as Quade Kozak hit Travis Heggart for a 10-yard touchdown and the first of his high school career as the Grade 10 standout finished as the team’s leading receiver with 21 grabs for 311 yards.

It was 9-0 after the first quarter when Kozak took over the game as the Bulldogs marched the field on consecutive drives for TDs. A mixture of passes and runs by Kozak, along with a 20-yard fake field-goal run by Ben VanLeeuwen, left the Bulldogs leading by 23 points. VanLeeuwen’s play put the ball at the one for Kozak’s quarterback sneak and the Grade 11 Bulldog would later score from two yards out.

Shep replied with a TD pass despite solid coverage by junior call-up Layne Amyotte, who started at corner in his first year of football.

Another short run by Kozak made it 30-6 at halftime.

Kozak’s second TD strike was a 19-yard catch and run by Cordel Callioux, who benefitted from Colton Meronyk’s huge block on the play.

Meronyk recorded more than 150 combined yards from scrimmage in the win.

Kozak capped off the night with his fourth TD run and 105 yards on the ground.

Shep’s last TD was through the air late in the game against several second stringers.

The defence was led by the three sacks and four tackles from the pint-sized Allen. Ryan Young was also a force on the defensive line and Viczko was handing out bone-crushing tackles like Halloween candy.

The Bulldogs generated just under 600 total yards in their highest-scoring game of the season.

Kozak completed 16 of 24 passes for 269 yards and Heggart led the receivers with six catches for 76 yards.

“It’s pretty nice coming into this big game on Saturday off a win like that,” said Allen, 17. “It’s what we needed for our offence. Our offence has been not slow but very low scoring this year. It’s had trouble in the red zone quite a bit and that was the game we wanted to work our offence out and we did.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.