A young Cowichan Bulldogs team found itself in a tough spot last Sunday in the provincial nine-man midget football championship game against the White Rock Titans.
The Bulldogs, made up almost exclusively of 16-year-olds, went up against a Titans team of 17- and 18-year-olds. Age, size and experience won the day as White Rock prevailed 37-1 over Cowichan.
“As much as I thought we were prepared, when it came down to it, we really weren’t,” said Cowichan head coach Mike Williams, who expressed immense pride in his young players. “It came down to physicality, and not being able to create space on offence and fill space on defence.”
Things took a negative turn for the Bulldogs almost immediately as they lost quarterback Carson Maertz to a sprained knee on just the second offensive play of the game. Maertz did come back in the second half, but was limited in what he could do. Later in the first quarter, Cowichan lost starting centre Evan McEwen, also to a sprained knee. The absence of two starters on offence was nearly impossible to overcome.
“It really showed when we had to put backups in,” Williams said. “Our execution was not there at all.”
The Bulldogs moved the ball in the first quarter, but struggled the rest of the game as the Titans took an 18-0 lead into halftime and built on it in the second half.
The teams split their regular-season meetings, and Williams admitted that the Bulldogs’ defence was better in the provincial final than it had been in their previous loss to the Titans.
“Their running game was based on cutbacks to open space, and we over-pursued them,” Williams commented. “The players weren’t disciplined enough to stay in their own areas. They were trying to make up for the other players’ mistakes.”
Damian McCuaig-Jones was selected as Cowichan’s game MVP.
“He was clearly our best player on the day,” Williams said. “He played both offence and defence, and was efficient in both roles, but one player does not make a team.”
Although each team had an MVP, there was only one award for the Most Sportsmanlike Player in the game, and it went to Cowichan’s Nicholas Young.
“He played well enough to influence the game, but we didn’t rally on defence behind Nicholas and Damian,” Williams said.
Cowichan has only one graduating player as Ryan Haywood prepares to move on, which sets the stage for another good season next fall.
“I told the players, as long as we work at getting bigger, stronger and faster, we will be better next year,” Williams said.