High school football is back.
After two years without games, Ballenas Whalers junior and senior varsity teams were excited to play their first game against Triple-A powerhouse Belmont Bulldogs of Victoria. Despite not having any clear indication whether they will be able to compete due to COVID-19, the Whalers continued to train and were happy to see their dedication rewarded.
The Junior Whalers, a Double-A team, were the first to see action against the Bulldogs at their home field on Sept. 8, in front of local fans. They are a young team that consist mostly of players who have never played the game of football before.
It was a big test for the young Whalers against the Bulldogs, who featured big players and a deep bench. But the Whalers didn’t back down. They slowly worked on their systems and in the second half played with more confidence and scored one touchdown by Caden Prontack with Alden Nichols securing the two point conversion. The Whalers lost 28-8 but it was a much-needed tuneup game as they start their B.C. Secondary Schools Football Conference schedule against the Double-A Argyle Pipers at Ballenas field on on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m.
“It was a great experience for the kids,” said coach Jeremy Conn. “A lot of the kids got significant playing time and had some success.”
Conn said he was pleased with the overall effort of the Junior Whalers, particularly against a formidable football team.
“One of the things that I have always told the kids is to finish strong, finish as a team and finish the game,” said Conn. “I saw the kids improved as the game went on, especially on offense. It’s a newer system and it was the first time for them to run it against real people. And that Belmont team is a huge team. It’s good for them to step up and keep on playing.”
The Senior Whalers got their chance to play when they travelled to Victoria to take on the Bulldogs for a Friday night football under the lights on Sept. 10. The exhibition game drew a good crowd that got the Bulldogs going early when they scored the first touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
The Whalers bounced back early in the second quarter to grab an 8-7 lead when Ayden Chambers scored on a 20-yard run and also made a three-yard run for the two-point conversion. That got the Whalers going as they increased their lead to 16-7 with Carter Brett catching a 48-yard pass from quarterback Brayden Jupe, with Ryker Pearson securing the extra two points.
In third quarter, the Whalers reached the end zone again to make it 22-7, with Ryker connecting a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jupe.
The Bulldogs were able to halt the Whalers when they scored a 30-yard muffed punt return to cut the lead to 22-13. But the Whalers sealed the game 28-13 with Kyle Kearns catching a 13-yard pass from Jupe to score the final touchdown of the game.
The Whalers in total carried the ball 16 times for a total of 44 yards that included one touchdown. Out of 21 passing attempts, they had 10 successful connections for 129 yards and three touchdowns.
Head coach Dan Smith said there were early jitters but once they settled down, they were able to execute their new game plan.
“This was the first time for them to try their new offence against a real defence and they really did well,” said Smith. “There’s still some things we need to really work on and the one good thing is we will have a video that we can go over and see the areas we need to improve more.”
Smith credited the Whalers players for not losing confidence and sticking with the program.
“It was really difficult to keep the kids interested,” said Smith. “There was a lot of distraction out there with this COVID stuff. But the kids have been great and also their school. We’ve been working hard, and the hardest part about it was like going to work and not getting a paycheque. They work their butts off and they don’t get to play the game. We’re happy to see them back playing again.”
Leading the defence was Reme Conway, who had five tackles and one fumble recovery, while Chambers, Will Dubesky and Dylan Vigneault each had four tackles, Enzo Agostinin three tackles and two sacks. Ryker Sansbury had two tackles and one interception with 35-yard return and Carter Brett had one interception and a 30-yard return.
The Senior Whalers will play their first conference game on the road against the Argyle Pipers at William Griffin Park on Sept. 17 at 2:30 p.m.