Bulldogs limp into Tier I provincial playdowns

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Commonwealth Stadium – Bad breaks continue to hurt the Bellerose Bulldogs.

Bellerose will huddle up in its second Tier I provincial playdowns in two years without starting quarterback Quade Kozak, the Haliburton Trophy winner as the division one Carr conference MVP who broke his leg in the third quarter of the 38-29 semifinal victory over the Salisbury Sabres, and Cordel Callioux, the backup QB and 2016 All-Edmonton Football Team selection in the Carr at defensive back who started behind the centre in Friday’s final in the snow and cold against the Harry Ainlay Titans and broke his left ankle in two places in the second quarter and the Bulldogs trailing 20-7.

Cory Hannam, a Grade 11 receiver on the senior team who was the backup QB on the junior Bulldogs last year, was thrust into a no-win situation with Bellerose reeling.

“With Cordel going down in the first half it was obviously something we didn’t count on,” said a stunned-looking Chad Hill, head coach of the Bulldogs, after the 48-14 drubbing by Ainlay. “Cory Hannam got a few reps in practice, he was running some scout team stuff, but he hasn’t played quarterback since peewee so I have to give him top marks for going in probably the most adverse situation a kid can ever imagine. He’s a Grade 11 kid who hasn’t played quarterback in a meaningful game since peewee.”

The Bulldogs will now refocus their sights on Saturday’s north semifinal against the Centennial Coyotes of Calgary. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. at Foote Field.

“We’ve got to piece something together for (provincials). Beating a team from Calgary would be great. Beating them without one of our top quarterbacks would be even better so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Hill, who was waiting Tuesday morning for film on Centennial to arrive but was informed by his spies in Calgary the Coyotes like to run the ball and are led by a mobile quarterback and quality players at running back and slotback.

The winner plays Ainlay or Salisbury in the Nov. 18 north final.

In the Football Alberta Tier I (1,250-plus students) rankings, Ainlay (9-0) is second, Bellerose (6-3) is fifth, Salisbury (5-3) is sixth and Centennial (3-6) is eighth.

“We’ve got to go to work, it’s as simple as that,” said a grim-sounding Ben VanLeeuwen, a Grade 12 running back, linebacker and kicker who converted his five-yard touchdown run 2:59 into the second quarter to cut the lead in half at 14-7. “We’ve got to practice this week and work our hearts out. We’ve got to give Cory reps at QB (and) get him ready and we’ve got to come back on Saturday and play as hard as we can.”

Are the Bulldogs snake bitten with injuries? Even Jacob Neuls, a defensive/offensive line coach and former Bulldog, broke his ankle last week.

“It’s just part of the sport I guess. It’s not always the best part of the game but it happens and there is nothing we can do about it,” VanLeeuwen said.

Zach Froese, a promising Grade 10 quarterback on the junior Bulldogs (5-1-1), is expected to join a rapidly shrinking senior team roster for provincials.

“We’ re a bit of a MASH unit right now. We’re running out of bodies,” Hill said. “The nice thing about provincials is juniors don’t lose any eligibility so we’ll have a bunch of juniors called up to play special teams and some will get meaningful minutes.”

The juniors (5-2) played in Tuesday’s division one semifinal against Salisbury (5-2) but the score was unavailable at press time. The final is Nov. 14 against the defending champion Jasper Place Rebels (6-1) or Ainlay (4-2-1) at 7:30 p.m. at Clarke Stadium.

As for the senior Bulldogs, the first Carr final in the post St. Albert Storm era was eerily similar to the 44-14 loss to Ainlay in league play.

“We just didn’t execute and losing Cordel was a big part of that. He’s a great part of our defence and a big part of our offence too,” VanLeeuwen said. “We knew we had to play our hearts out for Cordel and Quade and Dylan (McCoy, a Grade 11 lineman) and all those guys that are injured. We didn’t want to disappoint them. We wanted to play hard for the rest of our family.

“It’s a pretty hard loss to accept but we’ve just got to go to work and see what we can do at provincials.”

The halftime score was 34-7.

“It’s disappointing. Ainlay is a great team, we knew that, and the better team won tonight but our season is not over,” Hill said. “This will sting for the weekend, it really will, but we’ve got to get right back at it for provincials.

“We may see them in a couple of weeks and by then we had better figure something out.”

An early break gave the Bulldogs the ball at Ainlay’s 41 as the punt returner fumbled away VanLeeuwen’s kick and Logan McCullough fell on it and the offence returned to the field for the second time after receiving the opening kick-off.

However, on third down a pass fell incomplete and Ainlay took over possession at its 27.

The teams exchanged punts and the first play for Ainlay on its second possession was a 90-yard TD run with 1:57 left in the opening quarter.

The quarter ended with a 65-yard catch and run TD by Ainlay.

VanLeeuwen’s TD was set up by two clutch catches by McCullough of 31 and 27 yards as Callioux threaded the needle perfectly, plus a shifty 11-yard run by Callioux.

Ainlay’s third TD was a 28-yard reception after a horsecollar flag against the Bulldog put the ball at the Bellerose 31.

After the kick-off, on first down at the Bellerose 15, Callioux was injured while scrambling in the backfield adn was sacked for a five-yard loss. After a lengthy delay, Hannam entered the contest. After a two-and-out, the Bulldogs punted the ball away and Ainlay huddled up at the Bellerose 52. A few plays later, Ainlay scored from the 18 and the conversion made it 27-7 with 2:11 remaining until halftime.

Callioux was eventually carted off the field and spent the second half inside a viewing room.

The last Ainlay TD before the half was a six-yard major following an interception at the Bellerose 50.

The body language of both teams spoke volumes as they entered their respective change rooms. A pumped-up Ainlay squad had a spring in their step while the Bulldogs shuffled forward in single file with heads hanging low.

The second half included VanLeeuwen’s 60-yard punt single with 4:16 left in the third quarter to make it 41-8, a pair of picks by Ainlay and three catches in a row by Travis Heggart on a drive that ended with McCullough’s seven-yard TD grab to put the score at 41-14 with 5:43 to play.

“I wished we wouldn’t have let in as many touchdowns as we did however that’s tough when the offence isn’t moving and clicking like it normally does,” Hill said. “They have the superior speed, great athletes over there but there was some sloppy tackling on our part, just footing stuff.

“But the boys fought their guts out and I have to give them credit for that.”

The last metro championship for the Bulldogs was 2007 in the division two Miles conference.

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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.