After almost two years off, all four Cowichan Bulldogs teams opened the fall season with wins on the road last weekend.
Despite having the youngest roster in the Vancouver Mainland Football League, the midget Bulldogs squared off against the defending provincial champion Victoria Spartans and came away with a dominant 39-0 victory.
The Bulldogs took the field without a single returning midget player or 18-year-old senior, while the Spartans had 14 seniors, but age and experience was no match for chemistry.
“In Cowichan’s favour is the fact that the majority of the group have played, and had significant success, together for multiple years,” Bulldogs head coach PJ Shea said. “The age, and experience gap was quickly closed by the Bulldogs, who dominated all three facets of the game.”
The Spartans made it past their own 20-yard line only twice in the entire game as the Bulldogs defence dominated the line of scrimmage, leading to interceptions by Gregor MacKenzie, Finn Shea and Trey McCuaig-Jones.
The Cowichan offence was patient and effective, not letting the Spartans anywhere near quarterback Ben Wilson, who controlled the tempo, scoring a pair of touchdowns himself and getting the ball to MacKenzie and Stirling Henry for other scores. Henry also ran a kickoff 111 yards for another touchdown.
“We have a young team, but we have a significant amount of talent,” Shea commented. “Our veteran core of athletes are a very special group. Their leadership and commitment has created an environment that is positive, aggressive and competitive. The new, and younger players have fed off that and have really bought into the program. This team is one of the most cohesive that we’ve had the privilege to coach. They respect, and have pride in what they are becoming, and are focused on what they want to accomplish”.
The bantam Bulldogs travelled to Nanaimo where they trounced the Seahawks 42-12.
The Seahawks got the first touchdown of the game, but Parker Bertrand was able to block the convert. Huge runs from Aiden Jeffries and Max Lang and blocks from Sebastian Tait, Isaac Keepence and Eamon Manley set up a touchdown by Ryder Maertz to even the score, and Landon Locke’s extra point put the Bulldogs ahead. The Seahawks scored one more major before the end of the first half, but missed the two-point convert attempt, and the Cowichan defence shut things down after that.
Kolten Crook recovered a fumble, Jaeden Williams saved a touchdown with a tackle, and the defence also got big plays from Connor Harper, Lucas Laver and Brad MacRae.
Maertz and Jordan Buscaino finished the game with two touchdowns apiece, and MacRae also scored on the second-last play of the game.
The junior bantams also travelled to Victoria where they defeated the Spartans 20-12 in a wet and hard-fought battle.
“It was amazing to see all the boys’ hard work come to fruition,” head coach Justin Young said.
Denver Wheeler was a warrior at fullback, making blocks that opened lots of room for the running game, as Josh Thomson ran for two touchdowns and more than 150 yards. Defensive standouts included Peter Elliot, who delivered the heaviest hits of the day, Kaden Backman, who had a strip sack and an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown, and Gabe White, who led the team with three sacks and several key tackles.
The peewee Bulldogs squared off against the Spartans in Victoria, taking a 21-13 win.
The Spartans capitalized on some early mistakes and took an early six-point lead, but first-year quarterback Gus Steeves took control and marched the Bulldogs down the field to take the lead on a converted touchdown. Steeves, Aylin Canning and Mica Kendrick all scored touchdowns for Cowichan.
The Bulldogs’ defence played a strong game, highlighted by a stop on their own five-yard line late in the second quarter that the offence was able to turn into a touchdown. Linebacker Landen Laver led the way on defence, while Canning and Atlas Ryder also made key tackles.
On special teams, kick returner Brayden Hagel returned a kick 68 yards to the Victoria two-yard line.
“We are all very impressed by this group’s hard work and dedication,” head coach Trystan Ryder said. “We are a young and fast team. It’s going to be an exciting season of peewee football.”
The Cowichan peewees and junior bantams play at home this Saturday at 10 a.m. and noon, respectively, while the midgets are at home on Sunday at 2 p.m. The bantams visit Comox on Sunday.