The Bellerose Bulldogs continued their exhibition season with a blowout 63-0 victory over the visiting R.F. Staples Thunderbirds on Thursday night at the Riel Recreation Park.
The Bulldogs started their domination early after kicking off to start the game. The Thunderbirds fumbled during their first possession, with Keegan Pawlick jumping on the loose ball and setting up starting quarterback Quade Kozak throwing 15 yards straight up the middle to receiver Ben VanLeeuwen to open the scoring early. That was the first of four first quarter touchdowns, all off the arm of Kozak, catching both VanLeeuwen twice and Cordell Callioux twice. The defensive line held strong, not allowing the Thunderbirds any yards in the first quarter. It wasn’t until the second quarter that they surrendered 10 yards to the Thunderbirds. The Bulldogs finished the first quarter with a 28-0 lead.
Kozak started the second quarter with a nine-yard carry for a touchdown, calling his own number in the endzone to put the Bulldogs up 35-0. That was the end of Kozak’s night as he handed over the reins to grade 10 quarterback Zach Froese. Kozak finished the night making seven completions on eight attempts, with four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs got into some penalty trouble in the second, with multiple roughing the passer penalties. The Thunderbirds tried to take advantage, moving the sticks to the Bulldogs 21-yard line and then gambling on a third-and-ten play, which led to a Bulldogs interception. The Bulldogs took it up the field in a drive that ended in Froese throwing his first touchdown of the game. The Bulldogs closed out the first half with a commanding 42-0 lead.
The Bulldogs scored on their opening drive of the second half, highlighted by a strong run for a first down by Froese, leading to a three-yard touchdown rush by Brett Yost.
The defensive line continued to impress, forcing a turnover on downs on a third-and-one play by the Thunderbirds at mid-field.
Some more undisciplined play in the third led to a Bulldogs interception being taken back on a defensive pass interference call.
Both teams had highlights in the fourth quarter, with an impressive punt by the Bulldogs catching the Thunderbirds on their one-yard line. The Thunderbirds responded with a 24-yard carry, their longest rush of the night. After forcing them to punt, Bulldog Logan McCullough returned the punt all the way for his first touchdown of the night. Froese finished his night completing five throws on eight attempts with one touchdown pass.
Head coach Chad Hill was pleased with his team’s exhibition performance, despite the penalty troubles that his team had.
“Some of the undisciplined stuff will happen when the lead gets that big. In the first quarter when we were marching penalties weren’t an issue. Calls that may be marginal in a close game are going to be called in a lopsided one. We need to be more disciplined, one or two were hard football plays that I can live with,” Hill said.
Still in exhibition play, these games provide valuable insight for the coaching staff who are still building the two teams.
“This game gives the coach a little bit more clarity on who we’re going to take on our senior team. We have half a dozen players that are on the bubble between the senior and junior team,” Hill said.
For Hill, having a strong set of returning starters from last year has him optimistic for the upcoming season.
“For us this year we have a veteran roster, which is something we don’t always have. We have a lot of returning players who played valuable minutes for us as Grade 10s and 11s. We’ve been excited about this year for months,” Hill said.
Veteran linebacker Matt Coogan, who had a standout game defensively including a thunderous quarterback sack on the final play of the game, which led to rookie Jonas Hazellar returning 20 yards for a touchdown, shares his coach’s optimism for the season.
“Expectations are pretty high. We’re looking to go far this year, we have a lot of returning players who are strong on both offence and defence. I’d say expectations are very high,” Coogan said.
The Bulldogs’ regular season begins next week for the senior team, kicking off against the Spruce Grove Panthers Friday night at 6 p.m. at Riel Park. The junior team opens their season on September 19 against the Archbishop O’Leary Spartans 6 p.m. at Riel Park.