Sherwood Park – The Bellerose Bulldogs are gaining ground in the playoff race one win at a time.
The No. 6 Tier I team in the province is a step closer towards the finish line after surging past the Salisbury Sabres 43-21 Friday in division one Carr conference football.
Four out of eight Carr teams advance into the postseason and the Bulldogs are 2-0 in league play.
“It’s special. It’s a good feeling,” said Ben VanLeeuwen, a bruising running back and linebacker, of the unbeaten and highly-ranked Bulldogs. “It gives us a little bit of confidence. Whenever you see those rankings it helps you going into the next week.”
The next game is a biggie. The Harry Ainlay Titans, ranked third as the first of four Carr teams in the top-10 Tier I (1,250-plus students) rankings, are also winners of two in a row by a margin of 102-14, compared to 85-48 for the Bulldogs.
Friday’s kick-off is 7:30 p.m. at Foote Field.
“We’re very excited. We’ve just got to go to work and practice all week and come out hard,” VanLeeuwen said. “They’re a very good team and it would be a very big statement if we can beat them.”
Salisbury (1-1), ninth in Tier I, was another stiff test the Bulldogs passed with flying colours.
“We were expecting a fight today and that’s what we got. They’re a good team,” VanLeeuwen said. “We came out and played our style and when we do that I think we can win. We’ve just got to come out and play hard.”
The Bulldogs grabbed Salisbury by the throat in the second quarter with 23 points to lead by 30 before the Sabres ended the first half with a short touchdown pass to complete a drive against the flag-riddled Bellerose defence.
In the second half and Bulldogs leading 30-7, Salisbury turned the ball over on downs at the Bellerose 46 and on the last play before quarter time Bellerose pulled off its second fake field goal attempt of the game as VanLeeuwen, the kicker, gained 15 tough yards to move the chains to the 15.
After a roughing the passer call on Salisbury, the ejection of a Sabre for dirty play and a Salisbury coach flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, Quade Kozak’s quarterback keeper from the one was converted by VanLeeuwen 47 seconds into the last period.
“We really needed that after letting them score before the half. We lost that momentum and we needed to get it back,” VanLeeuwen said.
Salisbury replied with TDs on a short run and screen pass to close the gap at 37-21 with under four minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs closed out the win with Cordel Callioux’s 14-yard pick-six with 2:27 to go.
Jacob Turpin also intercepted a pass with time running out on Salisbury.
“Our defence came up big with a few interceptions at the end,” VanLeeuwen said.
Callioux and Bronson Wilkie were credited with six tackles apiece, Logan McCullough had five and Darryl Marsh made four stops.
Travis Heggart registered two sacks and Bryce Workman tagged the quarterback once.
Salisbury also gave up a safety in punt formation with 2:47 left in the first half to make it 23-0 Bulldogs.
In the second quarter, Matt Coogan’s fumble recovery at the Salisbury 34 paved the way for the well-executed 30-yard fake field goal attempt as Callioux, the holder, fired a bullet to the wide-open Kozak in full flight towards the endzone and VanLeeuwen’s conversion after the brilliant play call put the score at 21-0.
The TD was set-up by the unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Bellerose assistant coach Matty Short for his colourful description of the official’s ball placement after VanLeeuwen was tackled near the first-down marker on a second-down pass reception.
“We just wanted to keep the drive going. We needed to take some more time off the clock and we got the touchdown,” said VanLeeuwen on the fake field-goal pass play used by the junior and senior Bulldogs last year with unsuccessful results.
Brett Yost also returned an errant shovel pass by Salisbury 17 yards into the endzone and VanLeeuwen’s conversion with 70 seconds to go before halftime extended the lead to 30-0.
McCullough’s 17-yard TD reception from Kozak opened the scoring on the team’s second offensive series. McCullough wound up with 55 yards overall on three catches.
The second TD was VanLeeuwen’s 17-yard rumble with 2:20 gone in the second quarter.
“I hit it up and JP (offensive lineman Jacob Parent) made a great block so I could cut it to the outside and I just got the edge,” said VanLeeuwen, who converted his TD. “Our offensive line is huge this year. They’re one of the best in the league and they’re going have a big impact on the result of our season.”
The robust Grade 12 Bulldog was the top rusher with 108 yards on 14 carries and led the team in receiving yards with 60 on four receptions.
“I just try and get as many yards as I can. I put my head down and run,” VanLeeuwen said.
Kozak finished 11-for-20 passing for 173 yards and was picked off once. He also gained 86 yards on 13 runs.