The Bellerose Bulldogs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Wednesday’s cliffhanger against the Paul Kane Blues.
Mitch Morrison was credited with the game-winning try in injury time from a lineout ball at the five-metre line as the Bulldogs prevailed 8-5 in high school men’s rugby.
“It was a team effort. Everybody gave it all the power they had and drove the ball in,” said Mike Jeffers, a Grade 11 Bellerose scrum-half, after the defensive struggle.
On the pivotal lineout play on the Bellerose side of the field the Bulldogs got a piece of the Paul Kane ball and frantically worked it towards the try line with an unrelenting push for points.
“We wanted to score so bad,” Jeffers said. “We just kept pushing and driving. It looked like we were going to lose it but we got it and kept going forward until we scored.”
The Blues were hanging on defensively for as long as they could after Jared Snidal scored the team’s first try of the season with 15 minutes left to play.
“I think since we thought we were in the lead and there was a little bit of time left we definitely had it,” said Ray MacIntyre, a Grade 12 Paul Kane flanker. “We should’ve kept our heads in the game. Instead we just lost all that aggression we had when we scored.”
Snidal’s try was set up by some diligent effort deep in the Bellerose end after the Blues blocked a kick. The ball changed hands several times among the Paul Kane players before Snidal touched it down to make it 5-3. MacIntyre, Kevin Rugg, Cole Kryton and Brett Trudel played big roles in the go-ahead try.
“To score like that was just amazing,” MacIntyre said. “We wanted to score on them, especially after not scoring any points in our other two games.”
After the try the Bulldogs stormed back, led by a tough group of forwards bent on destruction. Kieran Fraser ignited the team with a teeth-rattling tackle and a 40-yard romp as the momentum shifted towards Bellerose. The Blues held up the ball once in the try area to prevent a score and were forced to dig in deep on a series of five-metre scrums and lineout balls.
With time running out on the Bulldogs, Matt Johnston tried a short penalty kick from a difficult angle that missed the mark.
The Bulldogs kept pressing with a sense of urgency and were finally rewarded for their intense forward play.
“After that lineout, after they had their big drive, they just had a lot more aggression than we did,” MacIntyre said.
Jeffers, 17, said the Bulldogs refused to lose.
“After they scored we pushed and persevered to bring us back on top,” Jeffers said.
With three losses in three games the Blues are a work in progress despite dressing 17 returning players, including seven veterans out of 17 Grade 12s.
“We were really excited to play the Bulldogs because they’re our rivals,” MacIntyre said. “They didn’t have a team last year so we didn’t know what to expect but they played really well. We heard they had a lot of wrestlers and people in shape and a lot of good runners. We really tried to really work on the spread on defence but I guess their offence was just better.”
The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the second quarter on Johnston’s penalty kick from the 22-metre line. The Blues almost scored to end the first half but couldn’t hang on to the ball in the try area.
“Both teams played really hard but they seemed to be getting a lot more yards on us in the first half,” Jeffers said
The win by Bellerose solidified third place in the pool B standings at 2-2 and clinched a berth in the premier playoff bracket. The top three teams in pools A and B compete for premier honours and the right to represent the Metro Edmonton league at tier I (4A schools) provincials, June 12 and 13 at Edmonton.
“Now that we’re in premier we’ve got to fight to win some more games,” Jeffers said.
The first victory by the Bulldogs in men’s rugby since the 2006 city conference final was last week’s 13-12 see-saw affair in the rain against the winless O’Leary Spartans. A short penalty kick by Zach Caines late in the game put the Bulldogs on top to stay.
“The games that we won were both the same. They were pretty close,” said Jeffers, a versatile Bulldog who split time between the wing and fullback against O’Leary before injuries forced the transplanted Brit to take over scrum-half duties.
The Bulldogs and Blues were coming off humiliating losses Monday. Bellerose got blasted 55-0 by the powerhouse Sturgeon Spirits (3-0, 167 PF/0 PA). “That was a tough game. They just pounded on us all day,” Jeffers said.
Paul Kane was throttled 63-0 by the St. Francis Xavier Rams (3-0, 118 PF/20 PA). In the league opener the Blues surrendered 52 points to Sturgeon.
“We’ve had a rough season. We have a whole bunch of new people but everybody is trying hard,” said MacIntyre, the St. Albert U18 player of the year in 2008. “The Bulldogs played really good today but we played really good too. We feel that’s one of our best games. Even though it was a loss we learned a lot from it.”
The last game for Paul Kane before the May 27 city conference semifinals kick off is next Wednesday versus O’Leary at 4:45 p.m. at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.