The Bellerose Bulldogs paid the price in Friday’s win-and-you’re-in showdown for a semifinal spot in Carr division one football.
The Bulldogs lost the services of running back Zach Nuttall to a broken ankle, two-way standout Colten Meronyk to a broken fibula and receiver Joseph Chaschin to a dislocated elbow in the 32-8 victory over the Spruce Grove Panthers for a date with the defending champion Bev Facey Falcons.
Lineman Nick Allen is also questionable with a finger injury and defensive back Logan Moreau is out for the season after suffering a head injury when he inadvertently collided with a teammate in practice last week.
Head coach Chad Hill will see how many juniors are healthy after their final Thursday to suit up for the seniors Friday against Facey, winners of six of the last eight metro Edmonton finals. Kickoff is 5 p.m. at Foote Field and admission is $5.
“As a coaching staff we need to focus on coaching up the players we have available. If that means it’s 18 seniors and 12 junior callups, then that is what we will do,” Hill said. “Some guys might be moving positions this week but I know the players who are able to play will do their best and play their hardest for their team and their school.”
The Bulldogs (5-3) are the proverbial underdogs against Facey (8-0) and its star player, Chubba Hubbard (27 touchdowns and 2,243 yards on 112 carries).
“We’re going to try stopping them as best we can and that’s all we can do pretty much,” said defensive end Matt Heinrichs, after the last league game before the playoffs.
One of the worst losses in recent years for the Bulldogs was last month’s 54-7 shellacking by Facey in St. Albert.
“Facey is a good team. We already learned that playing them here at home but the coaches know what we have to do to prepare for them and we’ll be ready,” said the versatile Jaedon Carroll.
After the loss to Facey, the No. 2-ranked Tier I (school population 1,250-plus students) team in Alberta, the No. 7-ranked Tier I Bulldogs had to win their next two games to sneak into the post-season and they rose to the challenge by whipping the winless Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds 52-24 before punting the No. 10-ranked Tier I Panthers (4-3-1) out of the playoff picture.
“There is nothing better knowing we made the playoffs,” Carroll said. “We played our hearts out tonight. We really wanted this one.”
Heinrichs added: “It’s an unbelievable feeling that we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives and especially the Grade 12s. We’re all glad that this isn’t our last game.”
Carroll, 17, teamed up with quarterback Morgan Sherban for TD receptions of 10 yards to end the first quarter and six yards with 1:44 left in the half as the Bulldogs grabbed control of the match leading 27-0 at the break.
“We knew they were going to be a tough team. We just got them quick and kept on going,” said Carroll.
His 35-yard sideline catch at the 10 set up the first TD. Overall, the Grade 12 Bulldog collected nine passes for 96 yards, gained 24 yards on four carries, converted three TDs and booted a 29-yard field goal with 55 seconds to go in the third quarter to make it 32-0. The defensive back was also credited with five tackles.
After a two-and-out by the Panthers on their first possession to start the second quarter, Heinrichs blocked a punt and the Bulldogs recovered it at the Spruce Grove 42. On the next play, Eric Calkins hauled in a Sherban pass around the 20 and raced into the endzone.
Sherban’s team-leading eighth TD of the season was a five-yard run to cap off a 54-yard drive.
Chase Larose also picked off a deep pass before the half ended.
The Panthers gave up a safety early in the third quarter on Meronyk’s tackle in the endzone.
In the fourth quarter Heinrichs and Drew Morison combined to stop the Panthers on the Bellerose one on third and goal. The Panthers would go on to take down Sherban in the endzone for a safety with 6:33 to play.
A five-yard TD pass by the Panthers closed out the scoring.
“We definitely worked our butts off. Spruce Grove is definitely a good team and we didn’t want to let up on them,” said Heinrichs, 16, a Grade 12 Bulldog who finished the win with five tackles. “As much as I want to brag about our defence, our offence played a really good game and put up some good points.”
Senior Night also marked the first win at home this season after losses of 27-6 to the Harry Ainlay Titans (5-3) to kick off league play, 6-3 to the Paul Kane Blues (7-1) in the rain and wind and Facey.
“It’s great having more fans out here in this big game and supporting us. Hearing them cheer for us to come out on top is a really good feeling,” said Carroll, the third-leading Carr receiver with 414 yards on 36 catches and his 351 yards on 29 carries ranked second on the team behind Morgan’s 560 yards on 83 runs.
Thursday’s division one junior final between the Bulldogs and Facey kicks off at 6 p.m. at Clarke Park and admission is $5.
Both teams are 5-0.
The three-time defending champion Bulldogs are undefeated in 28 league and playoff games after losing the 2011 semifinal to Facey.
“There is a lot of excitement for this game. Everyone wants to play it right now,” said Kyle Viczko, a Grade 11 defensive back, prior to Monday’s practice. “We have a lot of confidence on our team and I feel like we’re ready to go.”
The only team to win more than three junior championships in a row was the St. Francis Xavier Rams with five from 1991 to 1995.
“I want to win it for the five-peat so I can come to that game and watch it,” said Viczko, a second-year junior.
In exhibition play Facey shutout Bulldogs 29-0 Sept. 15 in St. Albert.
“I definitely think we know what we’re going up against and they have their motivation too,” Viczko said. “There is a lot of pressure just to make sure we get everything perfect.”
Last week’s semifinal scores were 42-15 Facey over the Harry Ainlay Titans (3-3) and 7-6 for the Bulldogs over the Jasper Place Rebels (3-2). The Bulldogs beat the Rebels in the last two finals 56-0 last year and 21-17 in 2014.
The Bulldogs were plagued by turnovers in the semifinal but led 7-0 on Adam Bochar’s six-yard TD run in the last minute before the half.
The Rebels scored with under eight minutes remaining after recovering an offensive fumble at midfield. They elected to go for two points to take the lead but the attempted pass fell incomplete.
“They were a tough team and we tried and tried. It’s definitely going to drive us more incentive to be better in this next game,” said Viczko, 17, who ranked among the team leaders in tackles on a stout defence against the Rebels and was dishing out heavy hits all over the field.