The core of Cowichan Bulldogs players who played this fall in the bantam age group have made multiple trips to the provincial championships in recent years.
In both 2017 and 2018, the same group lost in the nine-man junior bantam championships, falling victim both times to the tournament’s unusual format.
As bantams this year, the team dominated their competition, going undefeated to win the Vancouver Mainland Football League regular-season title, taking the Island playoff championship, and surviving their biggest challenge of the year to win the provincial semifinal.
It wasn’t until last Sunday’s provincial final that someone finally found a way to beat the Bulldogs.
Cowichan travelled to the Mainland to face the also-unbeaten North Langley Bears, and came home empty-handed after a 57-7 defeat.
“Of all our losses at provincials, this one hurts the most,” bantam Bulldogs head coach PJ Shea said. “To say the result was a surprise is an understatement.”
The Bulldogs and Bears hadn’t faced each other prior to the provincial final, and the game started out as a defensive affair, with neither team able to breach the other’s defence. The Bulldogs opened the scoring on a touchdown pass from Finn Shea to Stirling Henry. The Bears replied a short time later, and never looked back.
“Today was not our day,” coach Shea lamented. “We started out strong, but quickly the game turned and we were out. The things that we have done well throughout the year, that had put us in this position, just didn’t come together.”
Excellent play by their quarterback and receiver corps led North Langley to victory, Shea said.
“Some days everything goes right, other times it all goes wrong,” he commented. “Unfortunately, today was the latter.”
The season as a whole was still something for the team to be proud of.
“Our athletes have had an excellent year,” Shea said. “It is a shame that the season had to end like this. With every loss is an opportunity to learn. We’ll take a few weeks off, and then get back to work. This group is solid and committed.”
The bantam Bulldogs handed out their year-end awards on Wednesday. Nico Harris was named top rookie, Hunter Maertz was named Most Improved Player, Jayden Strzok was named Defensive Player of the Year, Stirling Henry was named Offensive Player of the Year, Finn Shea took home the senior/leadership award, and Dillon Wilson was named Most Valuable Player.