Clarke Stadium – The Bellerose Bulldogs punched their ticket to the division one Carr conference final but it was costly.
The Bulldogs will line up against the undefeated Harry Ainlay Titans without Quade Kozak behind the centre after the standout Grade 12 quarterback busted his leg in two places in Friday’s semifinal against the Salisbury Sabres and underwent surgery the next day.
“We lost one of our leaders, we lost one of our guys, but honest to God this is a rallying cry here fellas,” was the message delivered by head coach Chad Hill inside a change room filled with mixed emotions after the bittersweet 38-29 victory.
Kozak was hurt on a designed QB run to the Salisbury seven with 1:29 left in the third quarter and the Bulldogs leading by two points. After a lengthy injury timeout, Cordel Callioux shifted from wideout to QB and scored on the next play around the left side and Ben VanLeeuwen’s conversion made it 36-27.
“It was pretty tragic. We were saddened when we saw his leg but we had to play for him and we knew Cordel would pull through,” said Matt Coogan, a versatile Grade 12 Bulldog. “We never stopped playing hard after that and we came out on top.”
The response by the Bulldogs was clutch after the demoralizing turn of events.
“That touchdown was important. Everyone was hanging their heads after the loss of Quade. We lost our leader, he was gone, but as soon as we scored heads were held high. We were so excited,” said Keegan Pawlik, a rugby prop at defensive end.
“When our QB went out, Cordel went in and behind our O-line scored on the first play. He scored the winning points right there,” Hill told his players. “We did not let them back in. We won that game.”
Kozak, 17, put up MVP-calibre numbers in seven regular-season contests by completing 106 passes out of 173 attempts for 1,732 yards, 17 TDs and five interceptions. The Bulldogs’ leading ground gainer with 531 yards on 83 runs also scored five TDs.
In the semifinal, Kozak’s 30-yard TD run on third and inches and VanLeeuwen’s convert tied it at seven in the first quarter. Kozak bolted into the endzone untouched as Aidan Orr, Nick deChamplain and Parker LeLacheur opened up a huge hole.
The Grade 12 Sturgeon Composite High School student also recorded a punt single to make it 8-7.
In the second quarter, and Salisbury in front 20-15, Kozak hit Logan McCullough for a five-yard TD catch on the play-action fake to VanLeeuwen. The drive was set up by Salisbury shanking a punt and the Bulldogs took over the ball at their 45, followed by power runs from Kozak and VanLeeuwen and a pass to Callioux on second down to the five.
A phantom offside call also wiped out Kozak’s TD pass of 65 yards to Nathan Brake in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, Kozak’s deep pass bounced off the McCullough’s face mask and fell incomplete and his 25-yard strike to Travis Heggart was uncharacteristically coughed up by the sure-handed slotback as the Sabres recovered the ball at their 40.
Kozak also made two stops as a defensive end to give the Bulldogs the ball back before halftime.
The most outstanding player award recipient on last year’s senior team and the 2015 junior Bulldogs’ championship team will be missed against Ainlay.
“We’re going to rally from this fellas,” Hill said with conviction. “We’re going to give those boys one hell of a fight next week that they won’t see coming and you can believe me on that.”
The Bulldogs will compete for championship honours on the home turf of the Edmonton Eskimos as the metro Edmonton high school football finals will be staged at Commonwealth Stadium for the first time in the 39-year-history of the iconic venue.
Friday’s kick-off against Ainlay is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and admission is free for children 12 and under.
“It means so much. We get to play at Commonwealth and we get to play for a championship. All the players and coaches are so proud,” Coogan said.
It’s an historic achievement for the Bellerose football program.
“Last year we did something that hadn’t been done and that was make provincials. We wanted to go up from there. Last week, you guys earned to play football in November by beating Facey (in the come-from-behind 31-27 thriller in the last game before the playoffs). That earned us provincials. Well, tonight for the first time ever the Bellerose Bulldogs are playing in the division one championship game,” said Hill as cheers rained down on the little general by his devoted troops. “I could not be more proud of this team. It was a complete and whole team effort. Guys played all over the place and Junior call-ups played some valuable minutes. That was a fight and we knew Sal wouldn’t be an easy out.
“But (heck) yeah boys, we earned this championship game.”
The Bellerose football program was formed in 1998 after birth of the St. Albert High Skyhawks ended the Bellerose-based St. Albert Storm team.
The last metro championship for the bulldogs was 2007 in the division two Miles conference.
“This win means everything for us because we’re one step closer to winning a championship. It’s amazing,” Pawlik said.
Ainlay (8-0), however, is loaded with superior speed and skill as the Bulldogs (6-2) discovered during the 44-14 rude awakening Sept. 22. The Bulldogs trailed 14-0 after the first quarter, 24-0 at halftime and 38-0 after three quarters. The majority of the second half was played with running time.
“We’re going to play hard and bring everything we’ve got,” Coogan said.
The Titans tore apart the Bulldogs’ secondary for 360 passing yards and four TDs while completing 10 out of 18 attempts and also scored two rushing TDs while racking up 170 yards on 10 carries.
“We’ve got to battle it out in the trenches and get to the quarterback as much as possible,” Pawlik said.
The Bulldogs will lean on Callioux, a shifty Grade 12 Bulldog and 2016 All-Edmonton Football Team selection at defensive back, to spearhead the offence along with VanLeeuwen, a bullish runner behind a gritty O-line, and McCullough and Heggart as a pair of game-breaking receivers.
“We’ve all played with Cordel at quarterback before so it’s just getting back into the groove with him,” Pawlik said.
On the injury front, the Bulldogs were missing three defensive starters against Salisbury from the epic tilt with the Bev Facey Falcons (3-4) that clinched a semifinal spot. Branden Jackson (knee) is questionable for Ainlay, tackling machine Bronson Wilke (infected hand) is probable and Brett Yost will be back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for getting kicked out of the Facey match over a dirty deed.
Unable to finish the semifinal because of injuries were LeLacheur at centre, defensive end Karl Haasz and Brake at slotback and all three are listed as questionable for Ainlay.
The Carr final will also determine the Tier I (1,250-plus students) north semifinal opponents for the No.4-ranked Bulldogs and No. 2-ranked Ainlay as the No. 6-ranked Salisbury (5-3) and the unranked George Thirsk of Calgary have qualified for the Nov. 11 provincial playdowns at Foote Field.
“It means more football for us and that’s what we love,” said Coogan, a vital part of the win against Salisbury as a linebacker, receiver and running back.
Coogan’s fumble recovery around the Bellerose 10 with 1:53 to play and the Bulldogs in front 38-27 was huge.
“I was running on coverage and Darryl Marsh stripped the ball from the receiver and I just saw it and jumped on it,” said Coogan, 17, who can play just about any position on the field.
After the turnover, on second down and 12, Callioux was tackled in the endzone for the safety and on the next Salisbury series Coogan broke up a screen play to leave the Sabres looking at third and 15 at the Bellerose 32. On the next play, a pass fell incomplete and the Bulldogs took over on downs with 59.5 seconds remaining and worked the clock with runs by Callioux and VanLeeuwen to wrap up the win.
“We’re a determined team. We grind and we play hard,” Coogan said.
The first half was a wacky high-scoring affair with a slew of penalties, some iffy, as well as missed calls by the officials that caused havoc for both teams at inopportune times.
A pick-six by Cole Precht as Callioux pressured the QB into an early throw and VanLeeuwen’s convert put the Bulldogs on top 15-7 with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
“When Cole picked off the ball we saw light,” Pawlik said of Precht’s second interception in two games. “It was a key moment.”
Late in the half, VanLeeuwen busted loose for a 36-yard TD on one of his signature runs as linemen James Suranyi and Nolan Biesinger did the heavy work up front. Quality runs by Kozak and Callioux’s eight-yard reception helped to set up the score to make it 29-20.
VanLeeuwen would later miss a field goal with time running out before the break.
“Our Grade 12s, Quade and Ben especially, are key to our program,” Pawlik said.
Salisbury’s TDs were scored on a 70-yard punt return, a perfect guard-around play on a fake punt from the Bellerose 35 and a 95-yard romp against coverage breakdown.
“It was a grind from the start. It was pretty much back and forth,” said Pawlik, 17, who sacked the QB for a seven-yard loss back at the Salisbury six in the fourth quarter, which led to a safety in punt formation in the endzone as the Bulldogs extended the lead to 38-27 with 6:29 to play.