The Bellerose Bulldogs gained valuable ground in the Carr conference playoff race in Friday's must-win game against a team they were chasing in the standings.
Jackson Ryan’s touchdown burst in the second quarter and Nick Cowan’s convert was all the scoring the No. 2-ranked Carr defence needed to shutout the Austin O'Brien Crusaders 7-0 at Clarke Park.
“That win was basically our whole season. If we would've lost the playoffs we’re done so it basically kept us alive for the year,” Ryan said of the 3-2 Bulldogs, tied for third place in the Carr with the Spruce Grove Panthers and Harry Ainlay Titans with two games remaining.
It was another statement game for the resilient Bulldogs as they continue to exceed expectations as one of four Carr holdovers in the restructured metro Edmonton league with the addition of four prominent Edmonton public football teams.
“We’re definitely more confident than at the beginning of the season but we’re still kind of the underdogs. Everyone thinks we are,” Ryan said. “We never underestimate anyone either because we can’t. We just go into every game with nothing to lose.”
Beating the Crusaders (2-3), ranked seventh in Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) as the two-time defending provincial champions, was equally as impressive as the 22-21 thriller against the Bev Facey Falcons (2-3), winners of five of the last six Carr championships.
“We’re proving guys wrong that doubted us,” said Grade 12 lineman Jack Hanna. “We lost that game to Sal (21-0 to the Salisbury Sabres in the league opener) and everybody was kind of shaken up about that and then we gave Harry Ainlay a good game (in the 22-12 loss) and now we’ve won our last three.”
Thursday the Bulldogs face their stiffest test when they host the Panthers, last year’s public league champions and Tier I (1,250-plus students) provincial silver medallists. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Riel Recreation Park and admission is $5.
The most explosive Carr offence is led by star running back Quinn Polley’s 1,223 yards on 89 carries and 14 TDs. Colby Miller is the top receiver with 491 yards on 30 catches and six TDs and quarterback Brady Kerr is 54-for-93 passing for 763 yards, seven TDs and two picks for the No. 4-ranked Tier I team.
“We’re definitely not taking them lightly. We have to work our butts off in practice every day so we can shut them down and hold them to as few points as possible because their offence is where they win games. They've been putting up like 50 points each game so hopefully we can hold them on defence and then put a few points up on offence,” Ryan said.
The Bulldogs close out league play next Thursday against the Jasper Place Rebels (2-3) at 7:30 p.m. in St. Albert.
The Bulldogs must win at least one game to outright clinch a playoff spot. Two losses would create various tiebreaking scenarios to determine the six post-season teams. The top two teams receive first-round byes.
A playoff berth would also put the Bulldogs, ranked seventh in Tier I, in position to challenge for one of three metro provincial berths.
Hanna, 17, stressed the Bulldogs can’t rest on their laurels after knocking off the Crusaders.
“AOB is one of the top contenders in this league, just like everyone else is, but that's over and now we’re thinking about Spruce Grove. They've got a good team so we’ve really got to put the work in this week to be successful,” said the ferocious six-foot-two and 285-pound nose tackle and right guard.
The Bulldogs must still raise their level of play several notches after stopping the Crusaders in their tracks.
“It was our best game of the year as a team. It was pretty exhilarating,” Ryan said.
“We were pretty psyched on Friday. We came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Our offence started off really good and our defence shut down their big backs,” Hanna added. “In that last quarter when we needed first downs our offence came through and when we needed stops our defence came through too.”
Ryan’s second TD of the season was a two-yard trot into the endzone.
“The O-line did all the work for me and I just basically walked in,” said the six-foot, 250-pound Grade 12 running back who fills in at nose tackle when Hanna needs a breather. “It kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. It gave our defence a boost and they managed to hold them for the whole game, which was pretty impressive.”
Ryan finished with nine carries for 82 yards, plus one catch for 15 yards.
Tyler Feltis, the Bulldogs’ top rusher this year with 460 yards on 69 handoffs, chipped in with 71 yards on 11 carries.
Quarterback Matty Short gained 29 yards on five runs and completed seven of 12 passes for 103 yards.
Kirklen Robinson spearheaded the defensive charge with 2.5 sacks for a conference high six.
Robinson and Dylan Shorten were the leading tacklers with five apiece.
Ryan, 17, was making his first start after sitting out two games with a lower body injury. His three-game totals included 179 yards on 29 handoffs.
The first-year Bulldog arrived at Bellerose Composite High School after two seasons with the Sexsmith Sabres in the Mighty Peace League. To say it’s been a cultural shock football-wise coming to a Tier I program from a Tier IV (449 or less students) team that had “20 guys on the roster on a good year” is an understatement.
“There are a lot of differences. There’s the level of play and the speed of the game. The intensity. The practices are way different. Practices were pretty much just go out there and do whatever you want in Sexsmith. Here it’s all work,” Ryan said. “It just feels more like football than it did up there actually. I’m not trying to slander them but it’s just way more competitive.”