Clarke Park – The Bellerose Bulldogs repeated as undefeated metro Edmonton junior football champions in Thursday’s thriller in the snow.
The division one final was decided on the dramatic last play of the game, with the Bulldogs clinging to a 21-17 lead and the Jasper Place Rebels on the Bellerose five-yard line. With no time left on the clock, the Rebels threw to the corner of the endzone but the ball fell incomplete as pandemonium erupted and fans stormed the field to mob the victorious Bulldogs.
“It was picture perfect,” said an overjoyed Trace Stuht, the Grade 11 Bellerose quarterback, during the wild on-field, post-game festivities. “It was an awesome game. I’m so proud of the boys.”
After the Bulldogs regained the lead on Mitch Kruk’s one-yard TD and Jaedon Carroll’s convert with 85 seconds to play, the Rebels returned the kick-off to their 43 and with a sense of urgency pushed forward for the go-ahead touchdown. A lengthy run to the outside put the Rebels within striking distance, but the big play was a catch in double coverage at the Bellerose eight on a ball thrown up for grabs on third and 13 from the 30 with 17 seconds remaining.
On first down the Bulldogs stopped the Rebels at the five, setting the stage for the frantic finish to a tremendous playoff tussle. The targeted receiver never had a chance at reeling in the ball on the desperation throw. As the Rebels looked for a pass interference call, Bulldogs Nation roared in delight.
“It was the best play of the game for sure. It was really exciting,” said Mike Woywitka, a dominating Grade 11 defensive end and arguably the best Bulldog in the final. “It really was a nervous situation but everybody played their position and did what they were supposed to do and we pulled it off.”
Stuht was confident the Bulldogs would stand their ground with the Rebels on the verge of victory.
“I had faith in our defence. We have a great defence that held teams to two touchdowns during the regular season (and 19 points overall while posting five shutouts) so I knew we could do it. We just needed one more play to stop them and we did that,” said Stuht, who lined up at safety in crunch time. “It’s just so sweet right now.”
The final kicked off with a bang, as Kit Liske fielded the ball in front of the Bellerose five and took off like a bolt of lightning to open the scoring. Carroll converted the TD.
“Kit gave us a huge lift to start the game. Kit had good blocking and he exploited it with his speed for the touchdown,” said a relieved-looking Chad Hill, head coach of the 7-0 Bulldogs.
The Rebels (4-3) responded with a long drive that was kept alive by a couple of third-down conversions and two unnecessary roughing flags against the Bulldogs. A one-yard TD run and successful convert tied it at seven.
In the second quarter, Carroll’s 22-yard field goal attempt fell short of the post with 2:44 left until halftime.
Stuht threw the first of his two interceptions with 54.7 seconds on the clock and the Rebels huddled up at their 42.
The first half ended with a pick by Tristan Hayes of the Bulldogs.
Woywitka’s quarterback sack for a seven-yard loss at the Bellerose 50 on third and eight stopped the Rebels on their opening drive of the second half.
The second time on offence, and the Rebels looking at third and six around midfield, Woywitka charged into the backfield and without breaking stride plucked the ball out of the air on a pitch play and motored into the endzone. Carroll’s convert made it 14-7.
“It just kind of flew into my arms so I just took off. It was the hardest I’ve ever ran, that’s for sure,” Woywitka said.
The Bulldogs badly needed the shot of adrenaline.
“That touchdown gave us a big lift,” Hill said. “Mike Woywitka has to be the game star in my opinion. He some made huge plays. He’s strong and fast and is a fantastic team player.”
On the ensuing kick-off, the Rebels marched the ball from their 26 and settled for a 16-yard field goal with 2:33 remaining until quarter time. Another unnecessary roughing flag on the Bulldogs after a long run put the Rebels at the 13 but the Bellerose defence buckled down to force a third and nine situation.
On first down at the 35 after the field goal, Stuht was picked off and the Rebels returned the ball to the Bellerose 34. On second down the Bulldogs were flagged for a horse-collar tackle and from the one the Rebels scored with 52.8 seconds to go in the quarter. The convert left the Bulldogs trailing by three.
Back on offence, on first down at the Bellerose 54, Kruk fumbled the ball and the Rebels fell on it at their 45.
Early in the fourth quarter, on third and short, Woywitka led the defensive surge to stop the Rebels at the Bellerose 48.
After forcing the Bulldogs to punt, the Rebels drove the ball from the Bellerose 43 but turned it over on downs with an incomplete pass on third and six at the 22 with 5:53 to play.
Back on offence it was now or never for the Bulldogs and two consecutive runs by Kruk, the team’s leading rusher and TD scorer this season, propelled the defending champs to the Rebels’ 36.
“It was our last drive of the game and we knew we had to do something on offence after struggling a little bit in the first half and at the beginning of the second half. We were down three and we needed that touchdown,” Kruk said. “On the first play the linemen were blocking and pushing guys back and I got eight yards and on the next one I broke free. The crowd was pumped and our team was behind us and I knew right then and there we were going to score.”
On second and five, Stuht gained six yards up the gut to move the chains.
Two plays later, Stuht hit Eric Calkins down the middle for a clutch first down at the 14.
After a five-yard run by Stuht, the Bulldogs handed the ball off to Kruk during the final four plays of the impressive drive. His three-yard burst between the tackles on a tense third and two play led to the go-ahead TD.
“It was very exciting. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something like that,” said the Grade 11 Bulldog, who limped off the field after scoring and had to be carried to the bench with a tender hip. “They put up a very good fight but we knew if we executed we would win and in the end we did that.”
Hill was popping buttons how the Bulldogs rose to the challenge against a tough foe in the biggest game of the year.
“It was a total team effort today,” he said with pride. “We overcame penalties and turnovers but the players didn’t panic. I have to give the credit to our players because there are teams out there that may not have responded in the positive way that we did. That’s a tribute to our captains and to the assistant coaches for the leadership they showed.”
When asked what it means to be a Bulldog, Woywitka replied with a smile: “To be a champion, that’s what it really means to be a Bulldog.”
Tag(s): Jr. Bulldogs