The Bellerose Bulldogs charge into the second half of the high school football season in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Winners of two in row, the Bulldogs are in a six-way logjam for second spot at 2-2 with three games remaining in the tighter-than-a-drum Carr conference.
“Now that we’re fighting for the playoffs we definitely have to play strong. Everybody has to put everything into every game,” said Grade 12 wideout/kick returner Tyler Thorsley at Monday’s practice.
A victory Friday against the Austin O'Brien Crusaders would establish a foothold for a top-six playoff finish in what is touted as the toughest football division in Alberta.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Clarke Park and admission is $5.
In the Alberta Football rankings the Bulldogs are No. 8 in Tier I (1,250-plus students) and AOB (2-2) is No. 4 in Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) as the two-time defending provincial champions.
“With all the teams being fairly equal it’s anybody’s game,” Thorsley said. “We’re going to practice hard this week and hopefully come out strong.”
The Bulldogs have surprised not only themselves but the entire football community to have a .500 record at this point in the season.
“It’s pretty good to be 2-2,” said Grade 11 running back Tyler Feltis. “It’s better than we thought where we would be after we lost our first game to Sal (21-0 to the Salisbury Sabres in the season opener).”
The Bulldogs believe they belong in the Carr when others predicted they wouldn’t even win a game after the merger of the Edmonton metro and public leagues left the division stacked with top-ranked teams.
A stunning come-from-behind 22-21 triumph against the Bev Facey Falcons (2-2), winners of five of the last six Carr championships, proved the Bulldogs are the real deal.
“I feel like we should be here now. We didn't at the start after we lost to Sal but now we’re meshing and the team is playing like it should,” Feltis said.
A bend-but-don’t-break defence has allowed a conference-low 71 points, seven less than the first-place Sabres (4-0). Grade 11 linebacker Nick Cowan is the team-leader in tackles with 27, followed by Dean Ciampanelli’s 22, Cody Johnston’s 17 and Kirklen Robinson’s 16.
“Our defence has stayed strong throughout every game,” said Thorsley, 17.
Last week against the winless Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds, Mark Warawa was credited with a team-high five tackles, Ciampanelli and John Comeau had four apiece and Trevor Rosaasen picked off a pass in the 49-7 rout at Riel Recreation Park.
It was 7-0 after the first quarter, 27-7 at halftime and 42-7 after three quarters.
“It was a pretty big win and it meant a lot to us but they played really hard and they didn't give up. They never let us have anything easy,” Feltis said.
Quarterback Matty Short was a perfect 8-for-8 for 215 yards and fired touchdown passes of 44 yards to Dylan Shorten and 71 yards to Seth Waselenchuk in the first half and 32 yards to Thorsley in the third quarter. Thorsley has two catches for 135 yards and two TDs in three games dressed. His first reception was a highlight-reel 103-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter against Facey that was converted by Cowan to knot the score at 21 in St. Albert.
Shorten, last year’s MVP for the undefeated metro Edmonton premier junior champion Dawgs, is the team’s go-to receiver with nine receptions for 150 yards after grabbing five balls for 112 yards against Shep.
The ground game generated TDs of six and 37 yards by Feltis and one-yard efforts by Short and Robbie Tamburro.
Cowan was 6-for-7 kicking converts and the leading punter in the Carr also chipped in with a single point.
The Bulldogs struggled offensively to tack up 34 points after the shutout loss to Salisbury before busting loose against Shep.
“Our offence is going really well since our first game. Everybody’s meshed all their plays. We’re getting them all timed down and good to go and it showed really well in our last two games because our defence didn’t have to pick up our slack like they did before,” said Feltis, who gobbled up 133 yards on 18 carries behind a bullish offensive line against Shep to increase his team-leading totals to 433 on 59 handoffs.
Injuries in the backfield allowed Feltis to showcase his skills.
“We have Jackson Ryan, who is a big running back we got from Sexsmith, and when he got hurt I had to pick up the slack for the team and I think I’ve been doing pretty well,” said Feltis, 16, a senior team Bulldog last year while attending Sturgeon Composite High School. “Last year we had Ben Graunke (Haliburton Trophy winner as the MVP in the Carr) and he was really good so I’m living in the shadow of him and trying to live up to the running backs that used to go to Bellerose.”