A sombre group of Ballenas Whalers junior football players returned to Parksville Saturday afternoon after a heartbreaking 23-20 loss to Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham in the B.C. high school football championships at B.C. Place Stadium.
It was the biggest game of their season played out in the biggest football venue in the province but the JV Whalers lost by three points in the AA championship final November 30.
The JV Whalers were hoping to go down in the record books and bring home the Junior AA trophy but despite losing on their biggest stage ever, head coach Jeremy Conn said in many ways there were several victories.
“Even though we lost the game I am proud of how our players carried themselves. During the game an official commented on how impressed he was with our team. Also the head coach for the G.W. Grizzlies has sent me an e-mail saying how impressed they were with our sportsmanship and that we were the best team they have played all year and they felt lucky to win that game,” said Conn.
Admitting that G.W. Graham was a much bigger team, Conn agreed that their opponents were able to make more plays especially in the first half of the game where things definitely went the Grizzlies’ way.
“Our players were nervous and it showed as they looked tentative in the first half and we had some mistakes that led to us being down 16-7 in the half. But in the second half we responded and had a late touchdown that pulled us to 23-20 with just over a minute to go. However the onside kick attempt went just a yard too far and we could not get it and G.W. was able to run out the clock,” said Conn.
For a coach taking a team to a field as intimidating as B.C. Place with its giant roof and massive bleachers there is an added challenge of the mental game and while Conn said his players were focused the entire trip they did struggle in the first quarter.
“We had a tough time getting going to start the game as did G.W. and it was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. This was quite a surprise as both teams are high powered offence and I thought it might be a shoot out. But G.W. got a field goal to make it 3-0 and then a touchdown to make it 10-0.”
He said when they got their first touchdown to make it 10-7 the momentum of the game changed and his team started playing hard nosed football.
“It was confirmation that we deserved to be there and could do this… it was a boost for us to get going and play Whaler football like we know we can.”
At times the Whalers faced an explosive offence and a stifling defence but Conn emphasized his players responded like they have all season.
“On fourth and one we could have kicked the field goal but we have a very good short yardage package and have rarely been stopped. Everyone knew we needed to stick with our game plan that got us there in the first place. However G.W. played great defence and forced us to try to take the ball outside but we fell short and our drive was stopped giving them the ball and the momentum back.”
Matt Price, double A’s rushing leader this season, kept the Grizzlies on their toes throughout the game.
Price rushed for a pair of touchdowns and had 25 carries for 132 yards for Ballenas.
The leading rusher in all of B.C. junior varsity football, Price also had eight tackles and a QB sack.
Quarterback Garrin McDonnell also found the end zone and scored one of the majors for the Whalers.
McDonnell threw for 111 yards on eight of 16 passes while adding 67 yards rushing. He was also a standout on defence with six tackles and an interception.
Brendan Harstad was the leading receiver with four catches for 78 yards and finished as the top receiver in the province. He also had four tackles and a fumble recovery.
Austen Hunt finished with 11 tackles to lead the defence. Jonah Hay had 10 tackles.
Steven Martin was awarded the team’s most valuable player trophy for the game.
Conn said while the game didn’t end the way they wanted it to he couldn’t be more proud of his players.
“They are a shining example to me of what a sports team should be when it comes down to the old saying, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose its how you play the game.’ They never gave up, they gave 100 per cent, they supported each other, they did their best and while we hate to lose they lost with class and dignity and left it on the field.”
Conn said even though it was a heart-breaker to lose it was an awesome experience that he hopes will drive them for the rest of their life, knowing they are one of the best teams they have ever had at Ballenas and that was one of the best seasons he has ever enjoyed as a coach.
While Saturday’s loss was a tough pill to swallow, Conn is optimistic about their season and the future of Whalers football.
“I know we have the potential to be one of the top teams at both levels as we return many grade elevens to the senior team and have a great group of grade tens coming up while the juniors have an excellent group of grade nines returning with an impressive group of Grade 8s coming up from the Oceanside Titans football program.”