Clarke Park – The Bellerose Bulldogs roared back from an 11-point deficit to scratch out their first victory of the season in high school football.
“It’s what we needed — a hard-fought, gutsy win,” head coach Chad Hill told his happy players in the post-game huddle after Thursday’s 17-14 come-from-behind decision over the winless Austin O’Brien Crusaders.
The Bulldogs have struggled competing with the big boys in the metro Edmonton league’s Carr conference after going 6-2-1 overall last year as Miles conference semifinalists. They settled for a 6-6 tie against the Archbishop Jordan Scots and lost 29-0 to the powerhouse Bev Facey Falcons, as the 2009 tier I provincial finalists and three-time defending Carr champions did their scoring in the first half.
“This win means the world to us. It’s been tough losing and tying games,” said Lewis Biamonte, a hulking two-way Grade 12 lineman. “It’s also motivation for the Skyhawks.”
The Battle of St. Albert between the Bulldogs (1-1-1) and St. Albert High Skyhawks (2-0 in Carr and 3-1 overall) kicks off Thursday at 6 p.m. at Riel Park field. Gate admission is $5.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve played them at the senior level [38-0 loss to the Skyhawks in 2007]. There is gong to be hype surrounding that game. Don’t say anything that they can use as motivation,” Hill warned the Bulldogs with a rare display of sternness in his voice. “Enjoy this win tonight, but remember: don’t get into trash talking. Don’t get into any talking about the opposition. None of you can talk football on the Internet and texting. It’s not allowed, unless you’re talking NFL or CFL. Don’t talk about ourselves. Don’t talk Skyhawks. Don’t talk at all.”
When prodded to comment on the big game, Biamonte would only say, “We’re looking forward to it.”
Game star Nathan Anderson also gave the same answer word-for-word as Biamonte’s reply when quizzed about the upcoming grudge match. Anderson however was more forthcoming about his team’s performance against the Crusaders.
“We forced a lot of turnovers and that’s what made us win the game,” he said.
The Grade 10 cornerback picked off two passes on a night the Bellerose defence was simply sensational. The unofficial stat line for the defensive Dawgs included three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and three memorable third-down stands.
Galen Pon also blocked a punt and recovered the ensuing fumble in the second quarter.
“Our defence did really well in turning balls over and just stopping them on the line,” Biamonte said. “We still have stuff to work on but we really stepped up to the plate this game.”
Anderson’s first pick was a circus catch as he juggled the ball while falling to the turf at the Bellerose 49 in the second quarter with the Bulldogs trailing 7-3. His second act of thievery was a tremendous leap in front of the receiver. The St. Albert Storm midget product pulled the ball out of the lights at the Bellerose 12 near the end of the third quarter with the Crusaders up 14-10.
“The second one was better than the first one. I did my job right, just jumped up and tried to get it,” Anderson said. “It feels good to help out the team as much as I did tonight. All I did was just drop back into zone and covered my man and leaned on my guy like the coaches taught me.”
The Bulldogs opened the scoring on Robert Blunden’s 22-yard field goal with 8:28 gone in the game. The Crusaders replied with touchdowns of four yards, a quarterback bootleg on third and goal early in the second quarter, and a 65-yard sideline scamper on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter to lead 14-3.
The first TD of the season by the Bulldogs was scored through great second effort by fullback Devin Kondro. On second and goal from the four, he plowed through the Crusaders and while tackled short of the end zone, was able to plant the ball over the goal line with 4:58 left in the third quarter.
The TD was set up by linebacker Cody Andresen’s pick and short run to the Crusaders’ 21. Dan Pettey harassed the quarterback to make the bad throw.
Another key play leading up to Kondro’s TD was a strike from quarterback Ryan Ozunko to Adam Anderson in tight coverage in front of the posts on third and 16. In the first quarter, the pair hooked up for a scintillating 45-yard completion at the Crusaders’ 20, as the older of the two Anderson brothers pulled off a fingertip reception streaking down the sideline. It led to Blunden’s third field goal of the season.
Ozunko, a baseball player and transplanted Manitoban, has a rocket for a throwing arm. He recently joined the team and took most of the snaps from centre. He spread the ball around to Anderson, Tayler White, who also saw action at quarterback and Grayson Baker as the trio of Bulldogs made some pivotal catches on wicked deliveries by the Grade 12 Bellerose student.
With time running out and the Bulldogs down by four points, they stuffed the Crusaders on third and three at the Bellerose 13. They proceeded to march the ball into scoring territory, sparked by a great catch by Baker while staying in bounds at the Crusaders’ 40 for a 29-yard gain, as well as a 15-yard pass interference flag. The drive stalled on third and four at the 19 with an incomplete pass.
The Crusaders then went two-and-out. On the punt return the younger Anderson went one way, then back the other way before bolting through open space. He was spun around by a defender at the 11 with 1:11 on the clock.
“I was going to the left side because I thought I would have more blocks and then I realized the right side was more open so I cut back. I saw this big hole in between two guys, so I cut through them and booted it down the field and almost got a touchdown,” said Anderson, 15.
From there it seemed like an eternity before the Bulldogs finally scored the game-winning TD as both teams took gut-wrenching penalties before Ozunko pulled the trigger on first and goal from the three to a wide-open Baker in the end zone with 36 seconds to play. Adam Anderson kicked the convert, his second of the game.
“That was the most stressful part of the game because there were just so many penalties and we would get close [to the end zone]then get pushed back,” said Biamonte, 17.
The midget Storm product sealed the deal with a fumble recovery at the Crusaders’ 47 with 10 seconds to play after a jarring hit by defensive back Ben Gruanke separated the ball from the receiver on a second-down pass play from the 38.
“It went right down to the end, basically the last play of the game,” Biamonte said. “We played hard. It was 100 per cent for everybody.”