The Bellerose Bulldogs ride the wave of momentum into the playoffs as winners of three in a row.
The opening-round clincher was 41-7 over the Jasper Place Rebels on Friday as Bellerose finished 3-3 for sixth place in the division one Carr conference.
“We’re really excited we made the playoffs after we started the season off a little rough,“ said Bronson Wilke, a Grade 12 middle linebacker who led the defensive charge with 10 tackles against the Rebels (0-6).
“We were fed up with what was happening,” said Wilke of Bellerose losing three straight. “We know we have potential to do a lot better than this and we can because we have an amazing group of guys so we turned up the volume on our plays and our practices. We amped it up.”
Bellerose (103 PF/177 PA) and the third-place Austin O’Brien Crusaders (4-2, 201 PF/145 PA) butt heads for the first time this season in Friday’s 5 p.m. playoff at Foote Field.
The winner advances to the Nov. 2 semifinal against the second-place Salisbury Sabres (5-1, 293 PF/47 PA) and the final is Nov. 9 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Bellerose didn’t huddle up against the AOB or Salisbury in league play because of this year’s rotating Carr schedule.
“They’re a pretty strong team and they’re definitely going to be competition for us,” said Wilke of AOB, the fifth-ranked Tier II (750 to 1,249 students) team in the province. “But we’ve really moulded as a team over the last few games we played and we finally came tighter as a defence and offence. We work together now and we trust each other. We’ve bonded more so we’re better as a team now going against AOB.
“We’re really excited for this game,” added Wilke, 17, a Morinville Community High School student.
Nothing beats winning to pull everybody together.
“We’ve got addicted to this team feeling of togetherness,” Wilke said. “We’re like, OK, we’re going to go out with flying fists and we’re going to play with all of our hearts.”
Credit the Jason Lafferty-coached Bellerose lineup for not throwing in the towel after losses of 31-9 against the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds (4-2), 77-0 against the Harry Ainlay Titans (6-0), last year’s Carr and Alberta Bowl Tier I (1,250-plus students) champions, and 31-2 against the Spruce Grove Panthers (3-3).
“It was more like a kick in the ass than something to complain about because we knew we were a lot better than we reflected the way we were playing,” Wilke said. “It was just amazing how we became a team through the losses. We didn’t go home and go all sad. We saw what we did wrong and we said we have to fix this and this and this so we can beat our next opponent.”
Bellerose rose to the challenge with victories of 14-8 against the Bev Facey Falcons (0-6) and 37-23 against the Strathcona Lords (2-4) in setting the stage for a winning performance against the Rebels on Senior Night at Larry Olexiuk Field.
Mohammad Zeidan’s field goals of 35 and 24 yards, plus five conversions, Adam Rafat’s 51-yard catch and dash touchdown reception from Jared Koziol and four rushing TDs by Brett Yost of 25, three, six and two yards put points on the board as Bellerose led17-0 at halftime.
Yost gained 250 yards overall on 22 carries.
Koziol, who suffered an upper-body injury in the contest, was 9-for-15 passing for 231 yards and one interception. His backup, Jayden Randall, completed one of two passes for four yards and also gained 17 yards on three runs.
Rafat led all receivers with five receptions for 118 yards.
Pablo Rizzi-Benavides also picked off one pass.