The Bellerose Bulldogs were on a short leash Friday with the playoffs within reach.
The result against the Strathcona Lords would determine how important the regular-season finale against the Jasper Place Rebels is for the Bulldogs to qualify as the sixth and last playoff team in the division one Carr conference.
“We all want to keep playing,” said quarterback Jared Koziol prior to Thursday’s practice at Bellerose high school. “We’re all ready to prove ourselves against these teams.
“We’re stronger than ever now, honestly.”
The score against Strathcona (2-2) at Foote Field was unavailable at press time.
The Bulldogs (1-3) and Jasper Place (0-4) huddle up Friday on Senior Night at 7:30 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field.
The opening playoff round kicks off Oct. 26 with the top two teams receiving byes.
Last week’s 14-8 victory over the Bev Facey Falcons (0-5) put the Bulldogs in position to challenge for a playoff spot after losses of 31-9 against the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds (3-1), 77-0 against the 2017 Carr and Alberta Bowl Tier I champion Harry Ainlay Titans (4-0) and 31-2 against the Spruce Grove Panthers (2-3).
“It was relieving to finally get the W. We’ve been frustrated all season and then finally we worked together and got it,” Koziol said. “It feels good going into (the Strathcona game) now.”
This year marks a new era for Bulldogs Football in the metro Edmonton league without Sturgeon student athletes on the roster and Jason Lafferty assuming the head coaching duties.
Last year’s Bulldogs finished 7-4 overall as finalists in the Carr and Tier I (1,250-plus students) provincial north playoffs.
“We have a young team. We’ve learned a lot. We’re definitely getting stronger every week chasing these Ws,” Koziol said.
The Bulldogs finally caught their first win of the season with a determined effort.
“We just really executed our plays a lot better and a lot faster,” Koziol said. ”We added in a couple of new plays that week especially for Facey and that helped get the win.”
The first drive for the Bulldogs “set the tone,” according to Koziol.
“We ran it down the whole field and got to like the five-yard line and then (Brett) Yost ran it in,” he said. “We had a couple of other chances, like a couple of dropped balls in the end zone, but our run game was super good and we had a couple of shovel passes that worked super good on their defence.”
Stats from the win were not listed on the team’s website, but in the three losses Koziol completed 35 of 75 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown. The Grade 12 Bulldog was also picked off twice and sacked seven times.
Koziol, who sat out last season recuperating from knee surgery, also gained 24 yards on five runs, while Yost was the team’s rushing leader with 74 yards on 25 carries before the Facey game.
Koziol, 17, has a spring in his step after the lengthy layoff.
“It’s been good. I love it. I was missing it that whole year I was gone and then I felt I came back a lot better just by having that time off to recoup and get stronger in the gym,” said Koziol, who was hobbled by weak cartilage in his left knee before it was surgically repaired. “It just got worse over time and finally after my Grade 10 year I was like, ‘OK, I can’t keep going with this.’ It was hurting that whole year.
“I realized too I probably wasn’t going to start (with the senior Bulldogs) anyways because of Quade (Kozak, the Haliburton Trophy winner as the MVP in the Carr and Sturgeon student athlete) so I said, ‘Hey, take this year off, get stronger, get faster and we’ll see how Grade 12 goes.’”
Koziol was the team’s biggest cheerleader as the Bulldogs competed in their first Carr final and recorded their first Tier I provincial playdown win for a berth in their first Tier I north final.
“I kept thinking to myself if I was playing what plays I could make on the field, but I think it made me stronger mentally honestly to wait and just get healthy before getting back on the field,” said the 2016 junior team’s co-recipient of most contribution/least recognition award with Aiden Orr while splitting quarterbacking duties with Andrew Nielson.
Koziol knew he was good to go in spring camp despite some early jitters.
“I was a little nervous. What if I get hit the wrong way or what if I just stretch it the wrong way? And then finally we had our first game against AOB (Crusaders) in spring camp and I felt fine and ever since then it’s been perfect. It hasn’t bothered me at all.”