The Bellerose Bulldogs kicked off the playoffs Friday determined not to let the high school football season end with a loss.
“We’re very excited. I know for all the seniors this could be our last game that we play in our high school careers so let’s not make it our last,” said Adam Rafat, a prime-time Grade 12 slotback prior to Thursday’s practise at Bellerose.
The score against the Spruce Grove Panthers in the opening round of the division one Carr conference playoffs in the metro Edmonton league was unavailable at press time.
The previous week in Spruce Grove, the teams squared-off in the last game before the playoffs with Bellerose outscoring the Panthers 49-42.
The fourth versus fifth playoff bracket was already determined before the match as Bellerose (221 PF/202 PA) finished 4-3 as the No. 10-ranked Tier I (1,250-plus students) team in the province and the Panthers (236 PF/259 PA) wound up 3-4.
“It was a very important win because it gave all the boys on the team confidence. It got us rolling so going into this game we have a lot of confidence and we’re going to come out of it with the win,” Rafat, 17, said.
The teams combined for 894 yards offensively – 447 rushing and 50 passing for the Panthers compared to 131 rushing and 266 passing for Bellerose – and 13 touchdowns with six per side offensively and Max Taylor’s fumble recovery for points in the second quarter.
It was 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, 27-21 Bellerose at halftime and 35-34 Panthers after three quarters.
“That was definitely a team effort. Everyone played really good. We just have to work on our run (defence) and our offence has to play better,” Rafat said. “The weather factor is going to be a huge thing (Friday) especially since they have an advantage there because they’re primarily a run team. They’re running the ball a lot rather than passing.”
The Panthers averaged 8.7 yards per carry on 52 attempts for six touchdowns of one, two, 47, four, one and seven yards.
Gage Froese led Bellerose in rushing with 108 yards on 16 carries and TDs of one yard in the first quarter and eight yards to make it 34-28 in the third quarter.
Froese’s totals in league play are 534 yards on 92 carries.
Quarterback Tristan Olenick completed 13 of 22 passes of 266 yards and TDs of 21 yards to Jordan Howe and 26 yards to Caleb Akerley in the second quarter and Rafat’s 55 yard go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
Rafat’s seventh TD reception of the season was converted by Mohammad Zeidan as Bellerose regained the lead at 42-35.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going through that play, but if wasn’t for Tristan I wouldn't have got that touchdown pass,” said Rafat, who estimated he latched onto the ball around the 25 en route to the endzone.
Rafat led all receivers in the win with 150 yards on five receptions for season totals of 27 catches and 560 yards.
“I’ve got to work on my blocking aspect of the game, but stats wise I’ve had a pretty good season so far,” Rafat said.
Olenick, last year’s MVP of the junior Bulldogs in his Grade 10 season, has racked up 1,588 yards and 17 TDs while going 92-for-154 and was picked off six times.
Olenick’s second rushing TD this year, a one-yard effort, ended the scoring for Bellerose and the sixth extra point by Zeidan widened the gap to 49-35.
Jacob Patrick led the defence in solo tackles with eight while Jakob Kikkert, Taylor Schwam and Owen Fradette recorded six apiece.
Kikkert and Kyle Anderson were each credited with one sack.
The winner of the rematch will be the heavy underdog against the Harry Ainlay Titans (6-0-1, 312 PF/28 PA) in Friday’s semifinal at 7:30 p.m. at Clarke Stadium. The Carr championships the last two years and the 2018 Alberta Bowl Tier I finalists collared the Bulldogs 49-9 in the season opener.
“We’re trying not to look too far ahead, but the main focus is on Spruce obviously,” Rafat said. “But if we come out with a win in this game then Ainlay is definitely going to be a hard opponent to beat in the next round of the playoffs.”
Win or lose, Bellerose has shown marked improvement from last year's 3-4 team that ended the season with the 49-14 first-round playoff loss to the Austin O’Brien Crusaders.
“We've had an average season. It could’ve been better and it could’ve been worse, but obviously I’m happy where we are. We’re in the playoffs so it’s a completely different season now. Anything can happen,” said Rafat.