Ballenas Secondary School’s Varsity Whalers made believers out of some people on Saturday as they came from behind to beat the Holy Cross Crusaders 34-18 in the opening round of the BC High School AA football playoffs.
Played out at Beban Park in Nanaimo on Friday, the game did not go as planned early for Ballenas as the Crusaders came to the rock with some tricks up their sleeves.
They threw different looks offensively at the Whalers early to build up a 12-0 lead heading into second quarter.
“They’re a big team and we had to make some adjustments,” Whaler head coach Sean Hines said after the dust had settled.
“The first quarter we were playing chess, and they were moving their pieces pretty good.”
The Whalers regrouped and Justin Holland pulled in a 15 yard touchdown pass from Liam O’Brien to get the ball rolling for Ballenas.
The defence dug in and Tysen Hunt powered it in from seven yards out, and Safety Dallas Towle intercepted a pass for a huge 42-yard TD return that made it 21-12 Whalers at the half.
Holy Cross replied in the second half behind their power run game to make it 21-18, but when Towle broke a kickoff up the middle through a sea of Crusaders and returned it 90 yards for the major, “you could see it took the steam out of Surrey,” said one dad.
“He disappeared into this huge pile in the middle of the field … we thought the play was over, but he pops out the other side and takes off for the end zone … it was great,” said co-head coach Jeremy Conn.
O’Brien, one of a school-high nine Whalers to earn All-Conference honours this year, iced the win on a quarterback keep from seven yards out with time winding down.
“That was a scary game for us,” said Conn, explaining Holy Cross came out early and was able to run the ball and out-formation them, “but I am proud of how our kids responded, as we were able to slow them down on defense, our special teams were outstanding, and we found better balance in our offense.
“We knew this would be the ultimate team effort that required a lot of physical and mental toughness, as ‘Cross is a bigger team than us (and) we are really proud of how our kids responded to the early adversity.”
On defence, Towle and linebacker Zac Sesaljia led the Whaler D with eight tackles apiece and Dennis Adams had seven tackles and an interception.
Justin Holland also had an interception. Hunt ran for 132 yards on 11 carries.
Conn said the lads “are a little banged up, but nothing major.”
“I was thrilled with the way the kids were able to keep their focus — they never got discouraged,” concurred Hines.
The Varsity Whalers take to the field at UBC in Vancouver at 3 p.m. on Satruday for a quarterfinal tilt against Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Trojans.
The Trojans finished second in the East Conference and lost to Holy Cross 24-21 in regular season action, “but they also beat one of the top teams, Seaquem, so they’re kind of up and down.”