Both Cowichan Bulldogs spring football teams will play in their Island finals this Sunday after semifinal victories in Victoria last weekend.
The junior bantam Bulldogs battled back from a first-half deficit to knock off the Victoria Spartans 34-16 at Goudy Field, while the atom Bulldogs made their first-half lead stand up as they defeated the atom Spartans 19-14.
The teams in the junior bantam semifinal went in with identical 8-2 records, with one moving on to the final against the unbeaten Gordon Head Raiders and the other’s season coming to an end.
The Spartans stunned they Bulldogs by scoring on the fourth play of their first possession, but Cowichan replied with a long scoring drive that ended in a touchdown run by Nico Harris. Missing the convert, the Bulldogs found themselves down 8-6 when the first quarter ended. A missed tackle early in the second quarter led to another Victoria touchdown, and Cowichan trailed 14-6.
“We didn’t panic at all,” Cowichan head coach Ted Harris said. “We know that there are four quarters in a game. We are in great physical shape and knew that this would be a battle to the end. We endured the storm and methodically and physically wore them down.”
Dillon Wilson got the Bulldogs going again with the first of his three touchdowns on the day, and the offensive like of Rylan Rowe, Bradley MacRae, Eric Guo, Eamon Manley and Isaac Keepence slashed through the Victoria defence to create space for their running backs.
“We have the best running backs in the league: Nico Harris, Davin Reithaug and Dillon Wilson,” coach Harris said. “When these boys are on a roll, nobody in this league can stop them.”
Cody Williams gave Cowichan the lead by scoring on a quarterback sneak, part of a nearly flawless game for the pivot.
Big tackles from Harris, Ryder Maertz and Jordan Buscaino helped wear down the Spartans, and Ben Wilson, who usually switches out with Williams at quarterback stepped in at middle linebacker/safety and played a strong game. Reithaug picked off a pass and ran it into the Spartans zone, Devon Tidder blocked a put deep in the end to set up a touchdown by Wilson, and the Bulldogs scored 30 unanswered points to cruise to victory.
Cowichan will face Gordon Head for the league championship at Ladysmith’s Forrest Field this Sunday at 1 p.m.
With one game forfeited due to injuries and absences, the Cowichan’s only real loss this season came at the hands of Gordon Head, but the defending champion Bulldogs believe they can repeat.
“Our team plays well under pressure and we know that we can beat Gordon Head if we fire on all cylinders,” Harris said. “We have a wealth of talent and depth on our team. This weekend we will bring it to Ladysmith. We will attempt to retain what is ours.”
The atom Bulldogs were at their best in their most important game of the season.
“This game was a total team effort, and a win would not have been possible without everyone doing their jobs and executing to the best of their abilities,” head coach Trystan Ryder said.
After a tight defensive battle in the first quarter, Sam Moore opened the scoring with a huge run from Cowichan’s own 30-yard line, leaving a trail of broken tackles in his wake, and Aylin Canning, who thrives in smashmouth football, punched in the etra point. Dylan Balfour added another touchdown for the Bulldogs to make it 13-0 at halftime.
The Spartans answered back early in the third quarter, but Moore added another touchdown to make it 19-6 in the fourth quarter. Victoria scored one more, and added the two-point convert, but that was the closest they would get.
Cornerback Johnny Bloudell and outside linebacker Atlas Ryder worked together to shut down the Victoria passing game, and through great coverage came up with a big interception. Mica Kendrick again was a force at left corner and made tackles all over the field, and defensive end Jacob Champ lived up to his name with multiple tackles for loss of yards.
The atom Bulldogs will meet the Westshore Warriors for the Island title this Sunday in Ladysmith, starting at 10 a.m.
“A playoff win was the first step, but we are not done yet” coach Ryder said. “We have one more game to play. We will be ready.