The Cowichan Bulldogs survived a back-and-forth battle with the Meadow Ridge Knights to bring home the B.C. Community Football Association’s nine-man bantam provincial championship banner on Saturday, Dec. 4.
The Island champion Bulldogs travelled to Langley for the provincial final, where they defeated the Knights 33-24 to claim the provincial title.
“It was a very close game and very exciting for the fans but extremely nerve-wracking as a coach,” said the Bulldogs’ Opie Williams.
With a 12 p.m. start to the big game, the club sent the bantam team over to the Mainland the night before to allow for a good night’s sleep rather than an early wake-up call to catch a 7 a.m. boat on game day.
“It was a great experience for the team,” Williams said. “To be able to stay the night and have a bit of team bonding.”
Because of flooding across B.C., the game was delayed a week from its original date, so it had been a month since the Bulldogs’ last game, and it showed in the early going.
”We were a bit rusted and it took a bit to knock the rust off,” Williams admitted.
Meadow Ridge was able to move the ball at the beginning of the game, but the Cowichan defence came up strong and stopped the drive. The Bulldogs opened the scoring with a hitch screen to Max Lang, with Landon Locke making the extra point.
Penalties started to take their toll on the Bulldogs in the second quarter, as Meadow Ridge got into the red zone, then scored from the two-yard line, but missed the two-point convert attempt.
The Bulldogs were marching the ball toward the Meadow Ridge end when Lang had the ball stripped and the Knights recovered. The Cowichan defence came up strong, and thanks to that missed convert, the Bulldogs went into halftime with a 7-6 lead.
Meadow Ridge opened the second half with a squib kick that caught the Bulldogs asleep at the wheel and unable to recover the ball. The Knights capitalized and marched the ball down, then scored when they tricked Cowichan’s safety into thinking they were running the ball but instead passed to a wide-open receiver. The Knights once again missed the extra point.
The Bulldogs changed their kickoff return team so as not to allow another short kick, then took a 14-12 lead when Lang broke on a third-and-10 on the Knights’ 35-yard line, with another convert by Locke.
The Knights responded by moving the ball back into the red zone. With the Bulldogs running with a two-deep safety, Lucas Laver bit on the run being the play side. Ryder Maertz tried to make an interception, but was blocked by an official standing in the way and Meadow Ridge scored, missing another two-point convert.
Maertz scored the next two touchdowns for Cowichan, the first when he broke for 38 yards on a third-and-short, and the second on a 45-yard run. Locke nailed the extra point on the first score, but was blocked on the second, and the Bulldogs led 27-18.
Meadow Ridge came back to score and get within three points. The Knights had another chance late in the fourth, but Locke got a hand on the ball to break up the pass. Lang picked off their next offensive play and took it to the house, but Locke missed on the extra point.
With three touchdowns, including the late pick-six that iced the result, Lang was named MVP of the championship game. Other players who made key contributions but didn’t get on the scoresheet included Brad MacRae, Dayton Carson and Conner Harper.
This was the first appearance in a provincial final for Williams in a long coaching career at several age levels. He expressed his thanks to his staff, including assistant coaches Tim Maertz, Shane Laver, Geoff Backman, Evan Rhodes, Riley Caljouw and Eric Maslen — the last three former players on Williams’s midget teams — trainers Hazel Locke, Andrea Maertz and Leah Bertrand, and manager Kristine Keepence.