Dakota Cullum hauls in a pass from Carson Maertz to score the midget Cowichan Bulldogs’ first touchdown in last Sunday’s playoff win over the Comox Raiders in Ladysmith. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Midget Bulldogs find their game in the playoffs

Cowichan beats Comox Raiders in Island semifinal

The midget Cowichan Bulldogs finally played the kind of football that head coach Tim Maertz has known all season they are capable of.

“It was nice to see the guys play like they know they can play,” Maertz said after the Bulldogs beat the Comox Raiders 39-20 in the Island semifinal in Ladysmith last Sunday. “They were firing on all cylinders.”

Thanks to forfeits and byes, it had been three weeks since the Bulldogs had played a game, and they started off admittedly rusty, but persevered through some early struggles and prevailed.

“Everyone played hard,” Maertz said. “The effort put out there by the guys was great.”

The game started with a single point for the Bulldogs when Dakota Cullum’s opening kickoff bounced through the end zone. Comox then marched down the field to score, but Cowichan turned around and marched right back, finishing off a nine-play drive when quarterback Carson Maertz scrambled out of the pocket and fired a pass to Cullum in the end zone.

The Bulldogs got the ball back on an onside kick by Cullum, and two plays later Jon Nantais took a hand-off and ran it in for Cowichan’s second touchdown.

As the game progressed, the ‘Dogs got big performances from several players, not the least of which was running back Dylan Taylor.

“Dylan turned into a big monster truck in the backfield for us and ran the ball so well,” coach Maertz said. “There were times in the game where he had two or three guys draped all over him and still ran for five or six more yards.”

A big run by Taylor led to a touchdown pass from Maertz to Paul Romanoff, and the Bulldogs held a 22-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Comox managed to score one more before halftime, and the Bulldogs led 22-13 at the break.

“Everybody was in the game emotionally and knew what they had to do,” Tim Maertz said. “It was probably one of the funnest games I’ve coached in a long time.”

The Bulldogs’ first drive of the second half ended on an interception. The Raiders strung together a good series of plays after that, but Cowichan got a huge stop on defence thanks to Colton Peters, Daylen MacDonald, Lucas Calliou and Liam Simmonds. On the next series, Cowichan had to punt from deep in their own end, and Comox scored to make it 22-20.

The Bulldogs’ last meeting with the Raiders led to a “massive meltdown” for Cowichan, and the coaches wanted to prevent that from happening again.

“You’re aware of the score, but you’re more worried about keeping the guys focused,” Maertz said. “You don’t worry about what’s going on on the scoreboard. It was more about being a calming presence on the sidelines at that point.

“Your main goal is to keep talking to the guys in the sidelines and turning the nervous energy into energy for playing.”

The Cowichan defence started to find its footing as the second half continued, and big tackles by Simmonds, Calliou and Brayden Doucette and a sack by Aidan Taylor led to a turnover on downs. On the next drive, Carson Maertz hit Cullum with a pass, and Cullum and a Comox player collided with a referee, which led to a 10- to 15-minute delay as the official was tended to. Concerned as everyone was for the ref, the Bulldogs still benefited from the respite.

“It was a nice break for our guys,” Tim Maertz said. “We were getting gassed by then, so it was the perfect time to get some fuel back in their engines.”

Shortly after the game resumed, Taylor went for a big run and Romanoff caught a pass that got the Bulldogs to the two-yard line, allowing them to score on a QB keep. MacDonald picked off a pass to end the Raiders’ next possession, and Taylor scored two plays after that. A short kickoff by Cullum bounced off a Comox player and back into Cowichan’s hands, and the Bulldogs slotted a field goal to round out the scoring.

The Bulldogs will visit the Victoria Spartans at Westhills Stadium for the Island final this Sunday, and Maertz feels good about his team’s chances.

“I think Victoria will be in for a run for their money,” he said. “I’m really excited. What [the Bulldogs] showed on Sunday was what this team can do. It can only get better.”

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