A dogged Logan McCullough crossed the finish line in a blaze of glory during a race against time with a playoff spot slipping away from the Bellerose Bulldogs.
As the roar of the crowd intensified with every stride into the endzone, McCullough was oblivious to the ear-popping crescendo of emotion that engulfed Larry Olexiuk Field while scoring one of the greatest and most important touchdowns in team history.
“Everything was silence. All I could hear was my breath,” said McCullough with a winner’s smile while savouring the magnitude of the moment of the 55-yard game winner with 47.9 seconds left in the unforgettable 31-27 victory against the Bev Facey Falcons, the division one Carr conference champions eight of the last 10 years.
“It’s definitely a big thing to beat a Facey team that is now not going to playoffs. That’s huge. It’s a proud moment,” said Grade 12 quarterback Quade Kozak, who rifled three TD passes during a memorable 18-for-23 performance for 318 yards and was picked off once while also leading the Bulldogs in rushing with 89 yards on 18 carries.
The Bulldogs (5-2) storm into Friday’s semifinal against the Salisbury Sabres (5-2) as the No. 2 playoff seed after defeating Salisbury 43-21 in league play. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Clarke Stadium.
The Carr final against the Harry Ainlay Titans (7-0) or Austin O’Brien Crusaders (4-3) is Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.
In the Tier I provincials, the semifinal winner between the Bulldogs and Salisbury hosts the Robert Thirsk Comets of Calgary and the loser tackles Ainlay in the Nov. 11 north semifinals.
“We have to drive off this momentum. We can’t go into (the playoffs) thinking, Oh, we beat Facey, look at us. We’ve got to play like we did tonight,” said Kozak, 17. “We’ve got to clean up on a couple ends of the ball but overall going into the playoffs I think we’re sitting pretty good as a team. We’re very meshed.”
On an electrifying Friday night of high school football, the resilient Bulldogs caught lightning in a bottle in the last four minutes with two touchdowns on their last two offensive series to beat Facey (3-4) in stunning fashion.
“We just fought and fought and fought,” said McCullough, a Grade 12 slotback and cornerback while pounding his chest with pride. “We fought through all the penalties and all the mess-ups and a lot of injuries but we dialed in and as a team we executed.
“We’re brothers, this is our family and we’ll never stop fighting for each other.”
The Bulldogs trailed 17-10 at halftime after leading by 10 with under eight minutes left in the second quarter.
Facey’s second TD before halftime was the unbelievable 109-yard fumble return after Ben VanLeeuwen tried in vain to crack the goal line with the ball in one hand but it was dislodged about a couple of inches shy of the white stripe and Facey scooped it up and went the distance to make it 14-10 with 3:11 left until the break.
The Bulldogs also lost the services of defensive standout Brett Yost to an ejection for a flagrant foul with 14.8 seconds remaining in the half and Facey would go on to boot a 29-yard field goal.
“None of our Grade 12s wanted it to be our last game at Bellerose and none of the Grade 11s and Grade 10s wanted it to be their last game of the season so we came back as hard as we could in that second half,” said VanLeeuwen, a Grade 12 running back and defensive end who is tougher than a rugby player. “It was very emotional, the ups and downs like that, but you’ve just got to keep playing until the end of the game and push your hardest because that’s how you win these types of games. Whoever tries hardest, that’s who comes out on top.”
The Bulldogs pulled even at 17 on VanLeeuwen’s five-yard bolt up the gut and conversion with 3:59 to go in the third quarter.
Facey responded with a 12-yard TD run 54 seconds into the fourth quarter and 30-yard field goal to make it 27-17 with 7:01 to play.
After the kick-off, the Bulldogs scrimmaged at their 35 and proceeded to drive the field with first downs on McCullough’s 26-yard catch-and run to the Facey 54 and VanLeeuwen’s seven-yard run to the 42. On third down, Kozak aired the ball out to Heggart and the lanky slotback pulled down the pass inside the 10 in single coverage and with the defender sprawled out on the field trotted into the endzone for the 41-yard TD. The joint was jumping as VanLeeuwen’s conversion closed the gap to 27-24 with 3:56 remaining.
“I just said to myself I was going to catch this and then I felt him slide off my legs so I knew I was going all the way,” said Heggart, a Grade 11 Bulldog who also lines up at linebacker.
Back on offence, Facey started at its 45 and grinded out the yards with its loaded backfield before the Bulldogs forced a third and long at the Bellerose 37. The punt out of bounds put the Bulldogs at their 19 with 1:36 on the clock. On second and 17, Kozak fired a deep pass down the pipe for Heggart to stretch high in the air to grab in front of coverage at the Bellerose 52 as the crowd went wild.
“I’ve got to catch this no matter what so I went up to get it and when I brought it down I was so happy,” said Heggart, 16, who snagged four passes overall for 120 yards.
On second and seven at midfield and 68 seconds left in the season, Kozak fired a short dart to McCullough on the left side of the field and the Grade 12 slotback turned on the jets in front of the Bellerose bench for the dramatic highlight-reel TD.
“Once I caught the ball I just saw a lane and all I could think of was go. It was just an instinct to hit it. There was no dance, I just had to sell out and just go for my team and try and put it all on the line,” said McCullough, 17, of his eighth reception of the game to finish with 151 yards and two TDs. “I was so happy, just so blessed.”
McCullough’s first score was a four-yard reception to cap off an 84-yard opening drive that lasted 3:55 minutes and included big plays for first downs by Heggart and Cordel Callioux with tremendous catches.
But McCullough’s second TD was dramatic and spectacular.
“We knew when Logan caught the ball he was going to have room to run because Quade throws the ball with some spin on it. We were hoping we could gain a chunk of yards, 10 to 20 yards on that play, but Logan made a special play to cut it back and take it to the house,” said head coach Chad Hill.
Greg Germain, the receivers’ coach, suggested the play to Hill and it worked to perfection.
“It’s called the burst and it’s a play we had in earlier on to start the season and we’ve gone away from it. We thought from what we’ve seen how their defence plays it’s almost exclusively man coverage so we thought it would be a play that could have some success. We were a little worried if we had the time because it’s a slower developing play with receivers doing double moves. We talked at halftime probably running it but we hadn’t called it yet and at that point in the game Greg suggested it was time for the burst.
“He’s an awesome young coach so it was great insight.”
After fourth conversion by VanLeeuwen following McCullough’s second TD – VanLeeuwen also banked a kick off the left post and through the uprights for a successful 29-yard field goal with 2:01 left in the first quarter – Facey still had time to mount a comeback and after bobbling the kick-off in front of the goal line, the returner had a wall forming down the sideline in front of the stands but was rocked in his tracks by VanLeeuwen and company at the Facey 41.
On first down, and 36.8 seconds to go, Cole Precht picked off a deep pass and that was the ball game.
“I’m very proud of the boys. They fought hard and they’ve proven that they’re tough not only physically but mentally tough to fight back like that,” Hill said.
“Quade Kozak is the general at quarterback. Quade got banged up before half with his shoulder, he was feeling it, but we asked him to throw the ball a ton tonight and he was able to do that and top credit to the line for their pass protection. We only gave up a couple of sacks. We threw the ball as much as most pro teams do tonight and our receivers came up really big. Heggart and McCullough came up huge. Cordel had a big catch early on.
“I would also like to pay special attention to Ben VanLeeuwen who was beating himself up a little bit on the fumble at the goal line which was really close to being a touchdown. We told him afterwards it’s not pro football. There is no instant replay to stick that ball out. You can’t do that in amateur ball. He went on to score a touchdown in the second half and he ran hard. He ran over one of their players and that guy stayed down. He also had to play defence the whole time tonight as well after Brett Yost went out.
“We also had a Grade 10, Karl Haasz, step in at the other end’s spot in Yost’s absence so there was a lot of players tonight that came up really big and that’s what we had to do.”
VanLeeuwen, 17, was denied a TD on a drive that started on the Bellerose 40 after the first Facey major. A combination of Facey penalties, determined runs by VanLeeuwen and a nifty over-the-shoulder catch by McCullough at the five led to the wild and wacky turnover at the goal line on second and two.
“I was trying to reach the ball into the endzone. I thought I crossed but apparently the refs didn’t see it cross or I didn’t get in and I had one hand on it and it just got swiped out,” said VanLeeuwen, who pounded out 36 yards on eight carries and shared the team lead in tackles with Darryl Marsh at five apiece. “It sucked. It’s a pretty (crappy) feeling to see them score like that but we still realized we had to get going. Everyone had to get on their high horse and we didn’t stop for the rest of the game.”