The Dukes put up a good fight, but it was the hometown Whalers with the knockout punch on Saturday, as the blue and white parlayed three unanswered touchdowns into a well-earned 34-14 win in BC High School AA Varsity football action.
Played out at Ballenas Secondary School under clear warm conditions, both teams took to the field fired up for their first regular season game and Western Conference clash.
The visitors, from Windsor Secondary in North Van, opened the scoring on their first drive — they completed a long pass on third and long, and the Whalers also had a roughing the passer penalty — to take an early 7-0 lead.
Ballenas went 3-and-out on their first possession, but quarterback Liam O’Brien helped the cause on defence when he intercepted a pass and ran it back 44 yards for the major, then kicked the extra point to knot the game 7-7.
Ballenas stopped Windsor on their next possession, then drove the ball around 70 yards on a good mix of runs and passes, and O’Brien scored on a quarterback keep from five yards out for a 14-7 1st quarter lead.
The Whalers gave up an interception early in the 2nd and two plays later the Dukes’ QB ran it in from 15 yards out to tie it up 14-14.
Windsor stopped Ballenas on their next series and were marching the ball downfield when the Whalers’ Josh Bishop climbed the ladder for a clutch interception and took it 24 yards the other way to put the Ballenas at midfield. Bishop put together a couple big runs, and with just over a minute left in the half, O’Brien slung a perfect pass while rolling right to Scott Childs in the front corner of the end zone who turned and high-stepped it into the endzone, and the Whalers took a 21-14 lead into the break.
The two teams dug in to start the second half until O’Brien broke a QB sneak outside for an 81-yard touchdown run — the teams longest of the season so far — to put the Whalers up 28-14.
“We just gave them a funny formation and they overreacted to it. We use a lot of no-huddle,” explained Conn, adding “we made some calls to bring them over and Liam just went the other way.”
That TD took the wind out of the Dukes sails, and the visitors would turn the ball over a couple times down the stretch.
Bishop salted the win with a two yard touchdown plunge midway through the 4th.
A clean, hard-fought game, the Whalers took three penalties, Windsor, two.
“It was pretty physical out there ..we have some big guys on the line and we were able to grind them down — some of their guys had to leave the field and never came back.”
“It kind of went as expected,” Dukes’ head coach Jim Schuman surmised after the dust had settled. “We thought if we played our best football we could hang in there with them. We were fairly even at the start, but we were a bit soft defensively, we missed some tackles, and on offence we didn’t execute some plays, and we cant afford to do that …plus they had some players that really stepped up, and you need that,” he said.
Winning that first game of the season always feels good, and Conn said it was made all the better by what he saw from his team.
“Once we settled down I thought they played really well. I think everyone was little bit nervous in the beginning, especially when they scored on us early, but I was happy with the way our guys were able to respond in all phases of the game. A great team win — our offence was exceptional, our special teams were dynamite, our defence was able to make the adjustments we needed and we had some guys step up to make a lot of big plays.”
O’Brien finished the day with 124 passing yards and a TD in the air; he also ran for 144 yards and two TDs, and scored another off the interception. He was four-for-five on extra point kicks “ane he also had a 55 yard punt,” chuckled coach Conn. “Pretty impressive for sure …a lot of teams are going to focus on him. “He’s off to a phenomenal start,” Conn confirmed of O’Brien’s early season tear, adding “he never ceases to surprise us with some of the plays he can make, but we have a lot of talent on our team, so if other teams overcommit (key on him), we should be able to take advantage of it.”
Gr. 12 running back/safety Bishop had 60 yards and a TD to go along with six tackles, an INT and a fumble recovery on D. Childs, Gr. 11, hauled in four catches for 46 yards and a TD and pithed in with five tackles on defence. Gr. 11 Rory Knapton led the D with 9 tackles and added 47 yards offence on two catches. Gr. 12 linebacker Matt Leonard had eight tackles and two sacks.
The Varsity Whalers are back in action on home turf Saturday when they host the Argyle Pipers from North Van in another conference showdown. Kickoff is 1 p.m.