The Cowichan Timbermen finished the 50th anniversary season of Cowichan minor football in the most exciting fashion.
The T-Men scored two touchdowns after the three-minute warning in their last game of the year, then held off a late push by their visiting opponents as they beat the Victoria Spartans 20-15 at McAdam Park last Sunday.
“It was a great way to finish the season,” head coach Opie Williams said. “It was a very exciting game for the fans.”
Trailing 15-6 late in the fourth quarter, the T-Men had moved the ball deep into the Victoria zone when Williams called a timeout and ran a reverse, telling ball-carrier Jake Borserio that if the Spartans bit on the reverse that he had the option to keep it. The running back chose to keep the ball and ran it in to score. With Borserio taking a breather, Kain Melchior ran to the outside to complete the two-point convert.
“This put us down by one point but gave us the momentum,” Williams said.
The T-Men regained the ball soon after, and got back into the Victoria end. Quarterback Braemon Conville fired a perfect pass to Melchior in the end zone, giving Cowichan the lead. The Spartans drove back down the field and made it into the red zone in the final seconds of the game, but the Cowichan defence shut the door.
Cowichan had struggled in the first half, letting the Spartans take an early 14-0 lead. One of the early highlights for the Timbermen came when Ryan Haywood lived every lineman’s dream by carrying the ball: Haywood recovered a fumble on a reverse to Melchior, but ended up just short of the first down.
The T-Men came back late in the first half when Melchior made a few catches to get his team down to the six-yard line, where Borserio finished off the touchdown drive, making it 14-6 at halftime.
“We went into the locker room, and I told the boys that we are a second-half team,” Williams said. “We haven’t been lately, but we are a second half team and let’s prove it. They did.”
As a unit, the Cowichan defence had an excellent game. Scott Kennedy had a fumble recovery and Amish Dobson had an interception off a tipped ball. Derion Hughes led the way with five solo tackles and two assists, while Lucas Gross had three tackles and three assists.
The offence had Borserio and Tyler Hudson back for the season finale, and they both contributed.
“Ethan Shultz was on the sidelines, and said, ‘there is the old Jake from the Nanaimo Redmen championship team,’” Williams said. “Having Hudson in meant that we had a full offensive line and they made some great holes. It was a great way to finish the season.”
Seniors Melchior, Hudson, Dobson, Kennedy, Mitch Hinton, Tyler Campiou, Brad Stadel, Garion Ferguson, Shane Morson and Eddy Walt all played their last games with Cowichan minor football, while Borserio and James Dennis-Orr are graduating from the Nanaimo program.
The bantam Cowichan Bulldogs didn’t end their season on quite the same high note, losing 35-0 on the road against the Westside Warriors.
“We looked better defensively than we have most of the year,” coach Mike Williams said. “Unfortunately, as has been the theme, we gave up quite a few big plays on missed tackles, which led to three of Westside’s four scores.”
Matthew Pretula had one of his better games on defence, and German exchange student Magnus Hansen had an interception in the end zone that prevented a Westside touchdown.
“Offensively, we didn’t have much of a passing game,” Williams lamented. “We couldn’t protect against their blitz.”
When the ground game got going, running back Dakota Cullum had some strong moments moving the ball.
With only two players — Alex Van Ryk, who missed most of the year after an early-season injury, and Bradley Wilson — moving on to the next age level, things look good for the 2016 season.
“That will be a positive for next year,” Williams said. “Most of the guys I’ve had a whole year of working with will come back next year.”