The West Van Highlanders may have been favoured to win, but they had their hands full on Saturday against the hometown Whalers.
The JVs kicked things off in the opening game of the BC High School Football double header — both exhibition games — and battled their AAA opponents down the final whistle in a 27-20 loss.
The Highlanders took a 14-0 lead into the halftime break, but the boys in blue bounced back with a quick touchdown to start the third quarter, then traded TDs down the stretch.
In this, the first of two physical contests between two good programs — Ballenas is AA — the young Whalers showed no quit as they scored to make it 27-20 with about a minute-and-a-half left in the game. They made good on the ensuing on-side kick, then drove the ball down to the five yard line only to have the clock run out.
Ballenas quarterback Josh Bouchard was 18-for-23 for 188 yards in the air and two TDs. Thomas Franks piled up 106 yards on 13 carries, and Scott Childs had a season-high 12 receptions for 208 yards and a TD. Combined net offence (pass and rush) for Ballenas on the day was a season-high 380 yards. Defensively, Adam Droog led the charge with six tackles and two assists, and AJ Messner and Rory Knapton pitched in with tackles apiece.
“I don’t think we started out like we hoped, but we regrouped and played much better in the second half, so I’m proud of the guys for bouncing back the way they did,” said first year head coach Mike Di Giacomo.
IN VARSITY ACTION, Ballenas’ blue chip QB Liam O’Brien threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns and the Whalers hammered the Highlanders 34-8, showing again they deserve the No. 4 provincial ranking heading into their regular season opener against the No. 1 ranked John Barsby Bulldogs.
The senior Whalers were losing the battle for field position in the first quarrier and had to take a safety, and trailed 2-0 after the first quarter
“We were driving the ball pretty good, we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the first hall with turnovers (two),” co-head coach Jeremy Conn said.
O’Brien found his acrobatic deep threat, Dallas Towle, in the back of the end zone late in the second quarter for the Whalers’ first major of the day, and the blue and white never looked back. O’Brien also hooked up with Dustin Rodriguez for a major, and called his own number from one yard out as the Whalers out scored the Highlanders 27-6 in the second half. Grade 11 running back Tysen Hunt rushed for 139 yards and one TD, and Josh Bishop ran for 51 and a major. Justin Holland was the top receiver on the day with 118 yards.
The Whalers’ defence was especially physical Saturday, as evident by the Highlanders’ bench which at one point in the second quarter had four of their players sidelined with injuries, including their starting quarterback.
Matt Vandervelde led the Whalers D with six tackles and a fumble recovery. Zach Seseljia had five tackles and a fumble recovery, and defensive lineman Marc Yacoboski was wreaking havoc in the backfield
“We’re really happy with the offence — we were able to find our running game,” said Conn, adding, “we played really good defence, and our special teams really picked it up. We do some different things on special teams, and the kids are stating to get it.”
Ballenas went 3-1 in preseason action (with three of those games against AAA opponents), and are looking forward to the start of the real season.
“It feels pretty good,” Conn said of the top-five provincial ranking, the highest ranking for the local squad for quite some time. “But it’s only a ranking.
“Now we find out how good we really are. This is the real test.”
BRING ON THE BULLDOGS
The JVs next game is an Island Conference matchup against their rivals the John Barsby Bulldogs at BSS on Wednesday, Oct. 12 (3:15 p.m. kickoff). The Varsity Whalers open their regular season in Nanaimo Friday, Oct. 7 with a big Western Conference showdown against the Bulldogs in the annual Border Battle (1:45 p.m. kickoff).