The Bellerose Bulldogs are playing their best football when it matters the most.
The division one Carr conference team won two straight before wrapping up the metro Edmonton regular season Friday against the Jasper Place Rebels on Senior Night at Larry Olexiuk Field. The score was unavailable at press time.
A victory against the Rebels (0-5) should secure the sixth and last playoff spot for Bellerose after losing three in a row by a combined score of 139-11.
“We’re just tired of losing, honestly,” said Brett Yost, a Grade 12 running back and returnee from last year’s 7-4 Bulldogs as the Carr finalists and Tier I north provincial finalists on the team’s turnaround.
“Last year, we had such a good team and amazing culture and no one has ever felt losing three in a row before and once we finally got two wins, it was an amazing feeling,” Yost said of the breakthrough performances of 14-8 against the Bev Facey Falcons (0-5) at Emerald Hills and 37-23 against the Strathcona Lords (2-3) at Foote Field. “The Facey game, going into it we knew they were still a competitive team, but we just wanted to get that W and we were lucky enough to get it and against Scona it was in their barn, too, and to get that W there was a phenomenal feeling.”
Jason Lafferty, the new head coach at Bellerose, wasn’t discouraged over the three losses to kick off the season.
“I knew this was going to be a challenge and I was excited for it,” said Lafferty, prior to Thursday’s practice in preparation for the Rebels. “Everyone here relishes the challenge each day and every game and we have another challenge this week with JP. I know they’re going to come out flying. They’re a tough physical team historically.
“It’s another challenge and we don’t shy away from that stuff. We don’t listen to the noise, we just do our jobs.”
It’s been a work in progress for Bellerose to start bringing it at this stage in the season.
“Obviously it takes time to gel as a team. The guys are buying in to the message from the coaching staff and executing what we’re asking them to execute,” Lafferty said. “Jared (Koziol) is playing extremely well at the quarterback position. We’ve got defensive guys playing well. All the kids are playing well.
“These guys have done everything I’ve asked from day one.”
There were no pity parties for Bellerose while suffering losses of 31-9 against the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds (3-2), 77-0 against the Harry Ainlay Titans (4-0), last year’s Carr and Alberta Bowl Tier I champions, and 31-2 against the Spruce Grove Panthers (3-3).
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you when you’re 0-3. Nobody, me included. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. I’m not going to change my coaching philosophy. I’m not going to change how I talk to these kids, the academic standards that we have here or the demands we’re placing on them from a school perspective,” said Lafferty of the senior team’s young lineup and small roster of players.
As for the winning streak, “We made the most of our opportunities when we got them,” Lafferty said. “We played hard. They did what they were asked and they executed at a very high level in all phases of the game.
“Competitively we’re matched up with the teams we played so they’ve been good games. It’s been fun.”
Tinkering with the game plan also put Bellerose over the top against Facey and Strathcona.
“We just implemented a few more plays on offence and defence. We studied their film and kind of got a main idea of what they’re showing us and what we can do offensively and defensively,” Yost said. “Laff is an amazing coach and he knows exactly what to put in for both sides of the ball and I think that’s what really helped us out.”
Yost’s three-yard touchdown run and Mohammad Zeidan’s conversion opened the scoring against Facey, plus two safeties and Zeidan’s 18-yard field goal produced all the points Bellerose needed against the Sherwood Park team. It was 14-2 at halftime and there was no scoring in the fourth quarter.
Yost gobbled up 123 yards on 23 carries and caught five passes for 61 yards.
Koziol was 10-for-18 passing for 138 yards and was intercepted once.
Cory Hannam picked off two passes and Cole Precht and Pablo Rizzi-Benavides pulled off one interception apiece.
Rizzi-Benavides also led the defence in tackles with seven.
Strathcona, the 2017 division one Miles conference champion, led 9-0 in the first quarter and 16-7 in the second quarter and tied the match at 23 in the third quarter with a 68-yard pick-six.
Two of the biggest plays in the comeback victory for Bellerose was Shane Loewen’s 90-yard catch and run TD before quarter time in the first and Caleb Akerley’s 20-yard TD reception to put the Bulldogs ahead for good in the third quarter.
“We knew they weren’t going to be an easy team to beat and when they got those points up on us we were in the huddle and we just kept saying, ‘Keep on fighting guys. The game is not over. There is tons of time left,’” Yost said. “When Shane had that amazing catch, that kind of flipped the momentum around in our favour and we bounced right back.
“And when Jared threw to Caleb, that was an amazing catch by him and that also turned it around for us.”
Koziol also teamed up with Adam Rafat for a 56-yard TD before the third quarter ended and Zeidan’s fourth conversion ended the scoring.
Koziol completed 12 of 17 passes for 388 yards and was intercepted twice.
Rafat was the leading receiver with six catches for 171 yards.
Bronson Wilke was credited with a team-high 10 tackles and Ashton Drew had nine.
Liam Birch and Kyle Anderson also registered one QB sack apiece.
Yost gained 100 yards on 27 carries while scoring TDs on runs of seven yards in the second quarter and from the two in the third quarter, followed by the two-point conversion reception to make it 23-16 Bellerose to start the second half.
After five games, Yost produced 297 rushing yards on 79 carries and next closest Bulldog is Gage Froese with 24 yards on five handoffs.
“It was a little frustrating the first three games, we were just trying to click, but ever since then the O-line has played phenomenally and I couldn’t have done it without those guys. The five O-linemen we have, they’re absolutely amazing setting up the blocks for me and that’s why I’m getting those yards,” said Yost, a defensive stalwart last year who also served as Ben VanLeeuwen’s backup before he opened eyes while running to daylight with the midget spring league St. Albert Storm this season.
“It was time to shine in the spring with the Storm and the main thing was just getting the confidence built up,” said Yost, who filled in on defence for a couple of plays against Strathcona but is slickly an offensive player this year. “I had a great season with the Storm and then I just brought all the skills and all that stuff from the Storm into Bulldogs’ spring camp. I had a pretty good spring camp and tried to bring that into the fall.
“Being the older guy now, the kind of guy that everyone is kind of looking up to, I’m just trying to help the team and lead by example.”