Clarke Park – The top dawg for the metro Edmonton junior football champions was honoured as the Grant Yuzyk Trophy recipient as most valuable player in pool B after Thursday’s division one final.
“It’s awesome. It feels so good. It brings a smile to my face and I can’t stop smiling,” said a very happy Trace Stuht, a Grade 11 Bellerose Bulldogs quarterback.
The sixth St. Albert player to receive the junior MVP award joins past winners Mitch Millett (2005) of the Bulldogs, Colin Cardinal (2004), Brett Fabian (2006) and Mike Spagnola (2008) of the Skyhawks and Cory Knott (2011) of Paul Kane.
Stuht, 16, was credited with 1,100 yards passing for 15 touchdowns and one interception and rushed for nearly 400 yards and several TDs for the undefeated Bulldogs, but wasn’t sure his name would be announced during the post-game presentation.
“I was a little leery because No. 11 on Memorial (Marauders) is a great player and he really carries his team, so it’s a great feeling to get it,” Stuht said.
Despite throwing two picks in the closer-than-expected 21-17 playoff tilt with the Jasper Place Rebels, Stuht engineered a highlight-reel 4:28-minute, 88-yard drive that ended with Mitch Kruk’s one-yard go-ahead TD with 85 seconds remaining and the snow falling heavily.
“That's what we really needed. Our offence picked it up. We drove down the field, maintained composure and got all the way down to the endzone for the win. It was a great play by the offence,” Stuht said.
Kruk did most of the heavy lifting out of the backfield, but Stuht scrambled for some good yardage and a key first and also completed a couple of passes deep in Jasper Place territory.
“Full credit to Trace Stuht for regaining his composure and leading the winning drive. That’s what big time players do. He showed it tonight. He earned his MVP award,” said head coach Chad Hill. “It was probably the toughest game Trace has had all year but he came back when we needed it the most.”
Kruk’s TD was the first score by the offence (Bellerose averaged 51.4 points per game going into the final) after Kit Liske returned the opening kick off from in front of the five to pay dirt and defensive end Mike Woywitka latched onto an ill-advised pitch from the Rebels’ quarterback around midfield and galloped into the endzone to put the Bulldogs up by a TD in the third quarter.
“I was really thankful for the defence and special teams getting those points for us,” Stuht said. “It was a tough game for me. I threw two interceptions. There was a lot of pressure and I was just trying to keep my composure.”
The four-point margin of victory was the tightest of the season for the Bulldogs – 1-0 in exhibition, 5-0 in pool B league play and 2-0 in the playoffs.
“I was definitely worried. It was our best fight all year. Congrats to them. They played a really good game,” Stuht said. “It was so amazing how close it was, down to the five-yard line with like seven seconds left.”
The Rebels’ double-wing offence gave the Bulldogs fits.
“Kudos to them because with a team like us that’s the perfect way to play us. It eats up the clock and that’s what makes that offence very successful. It doesn’t result in a lot of points but it takes way the opportunity for the other team’s offence,” Hill said. “Our offence had limited chances with the ball and we also struggled a little bit with the penalties and the turnovers so that held them in the game.”
Stuht was one of 17 returning juniors on the 54-man roster to celebrate the first junior football championship in school history, when the Bulldogs finished 9-0 last year as premier conference playoff winners after whipping the St. Joseph Saints 44-6 in the final. “This is definitely sweeter. It’s another ring for us,” Stuht said.
Hill agreed with his star pupil. “In terms of overcoming adversity in a final, nothing can compare to this. Things that you don’t normally expect to see in a final, we saw tonight,” said Hill of some head-scratching officiating calls that went against the Bulldogs. “What we had to overcome in the final to earn this championship makes it as sweet as anything that can possibly be.”
The Bulldogs rank among the top junior programs in the province after their eighth win of the season and the 17th without a loss since the 2011 semifinal.
“I’m extremely proud. We’ve worked really, really hard to build the entire program and the foundations of the football program is the junior team,” said Hill, the senior Bulldogs’ head coach who guided the juniors to the 2005 premier final in his first season as field general. “To go two years without a loss is impressive, and even in 2011 we had two losses by a combined eight or nine points combined, so for the last three years especially we’ve been ultra competitive and I hope people see that and I think that is a drawing card for the program.
“We have a very successful division one senior football team ranked in the top 10 in the province (and was 4-5 in the notoriously tough Carr conference), but it starts with the foundations. (Former head coach) Steve Klein, back in 2005, decided that Bellerose needed a junior program and that was the vision we had. The junior program feeds the senior program and the foundations are there in junior to build an elite program and I think we’ve held true to our vision. We try not to rush young players up to senior if they are not ready and the proof is in the results we’ve had here in the past few years.”
Tag(s): Jr. Bulldogs