A big blue wave of Whaler Nation fans is heading to Burnaby tomorrow to support the Ballenas Whalers Junior Varsity football team in AA semi-final playoffs.
The junior Whalers have made the final four in the province and will take on the Vernon Panthers at Burnaby 8 Rinks Field Nov. 20.
They advanced in the second round of B.C. high school football playoffs after a convincing 41-12 win over the Seaquam Seahawks on November 13.
The first half of the provincial playoff quarterfinal game at Merle Logan field in Nanaimo had Whaler Nation fans biting their nails when Seaquam was first to get on the scoreboard with six points.
Head coach Jeremy Conn admitted his players struggled with their mental game in the first two quarters.
“We were pretty nervous in the first half” said Conn, “but the kids held it together and then in the second half we were able to play Whalers football and it was quite dominating.”
Conn said he is proud of how the kids responded to adversity and they were rewarded in a huge way for their perseverance.
“They made the adjustments we asked of them and now they get to play in the semi finals.”
Seaquam opened the scoring breaking a long run for the touchdown on third and long.
Ballenas could not get going on offence until tailback Matt Price made a long pass to wide receiver Sam Paquette for 43 yards to help get the momentum going for the Whalers.
Quarterback Garrin McDonnell finished the drive on a one yard TD plunge.
Conn said that McDonnell who played up with the senior squad this season used that experience to lead the team and dominate the second half.
“It is awesome to have a kid who can play with seniors and his own age group. He also had a good game on defence.”
Another standout performance came from Price who did all the scoring rushing for four touchdowns of 4, 47, 8 and 3 yards along with a defensive touchdown where he scooped up the fumble and went 40 yards for another major.
Price finished with 209 yards on the ground through 27 carries. McDonnell who is also the kicker was five for six on extra points.
On defence Paquette gad eight tackles from his safety position while Noah Wheatley had seven, Jonah Hay had nine, Dryden St.Pierre had eight and Steve Martin finished with six tackles.
“It took us a while to figure out their offence,” Conn said, adding “they had some exotic formations and a new fast little running back who was making some nice cuts. But once the players settled down, stayed in their gap, and did their job we were able to shut them down pretty much.”
Conn said his team worked hard and earned the opportunity to go to the final four and while that in itself is a major accomplishment of course he is hoping they can go all the way.
“It would be great to be the first junior team from Ballenas to go to the championship game. The kids have worked hard and are really committed and have earned all the success they have so far.”
He said his players are excited about their next game and they will be holding themselves to a high standard when they take on Vernon in the semi finals at Burnaby 8 Rinks Field Turf.
Conn acknowledged they are heading into uncharted territory when they take on Vernon.
“We have not played Vernon and have no common opponents. I am getting some ideas abut them. They play physical football and will try to run the ball first.”
He pointed out that his juniors are smart and the seniors have been challenging them in recent practices so they are ready to play their best.
Reflecting on the season of the Whalers’ senior team, Conn emphasized that finishing number eight in B.C. is quite an accomplishment and his players can hold their heads high.
“The seniors had a great season. I know it’s not how we wanted to finish the season but only one team gets to finish with a win. I was proud of the effort and commitment they put into this year.”
As for Grade 12 players Scott Childs and Brock Mould, two of the four Whalers selected as AA Western Conference All-Stars this year, Conn said both have what it takes to go far in the game.
“Scott and Brock are up there with some of the best players I have ever coached. They have talked to university coaches. I am looking forward to seeing them play at the next level because they have the grades and ability to go on.”
Childs is a standout wide receiver who leads the province in receiving and earned first selection for receiver, while Mould was first selection offensive lineman.