Their tightest result of the season having come in a recent game against the Cowichan Bulldogs, the North Langley Kodiaks weren’t taking any chances when the teams met for a rematch in the first round of the Vancouver Mainland Football League playoffs this past weekend.
The Kodiaks were unbeatable during the regular season, but the Bulldogs came closest to knocking them off when the teams met at McAdam Park on Remembrance Day. Thanks to a pair of rouges, North Langley managed to hold off Cowichan 9-8. That score — and not their 56-0 win over the same Bulldogs team in September — was apparently fresh in the Kodiaks’ minds as they prepared for the semifinal showdown.
“They were concerned enough to pull out all the stops,” Cowichan head coach Mike Williams noted. “Including some gamesmanship.”
The game was originally scheduled for Sunday, when the vast majority of VMFL midget games are played, but the Bulldogs started hearing rumours a week beforehand that it would be moved to Saturday. That wasn’t confirmed by the league until Tuesday, although North Langley had apparently made the request weeks earlier.
A number of Cowichan players and coaches had to make changes to their work schedules to accommodate the Saturday game time, and in the end one player and one coach were unable to make the trip, but the Bulldogs still managed to field a team, which wasn’t always guaranteed.
“We spent Tuesday and Wednesday in jeopardy of not having enough players to make the game,” Williams commented.
When the Bulldogs reached the field on Saturday, North Langley was in the process of protesting the eligibility of a Cowichan player, suggesting that wide receiver Jon Nantais hadn’t play the three regular-season games required before a player can take part in a playoff game. The Cowichan coaches were able to sort that problem out.
“To our kids’ credit, they dealt with it, and even used it as motivation,” Williams said. “It didn’t bother us mentally.”
In the end, the Bulldogs lost to the Kodiaks by a 26-0 final score, although only seven points were scored in the second half, and it was still a relatively close game by North Langley standards.
The Bulldogs played well on defence, but struggled on offence, and those performances were not unrelated. The Cowichan defence stopped four third-and-goal attempts by North Langley, which meant that Cowichan got the ball extremely deep in their own end.
Nantais, the player the Kodiaks targeted with eligibility questions, ended up having his best game of the season and finished with four receptions.
Williams thanked the rest of the coaching staff — Tim Maertz, Trent Jones, Ross McCauley, J.T. Sterling, Justin Young, Brian Scott and Jeff Pasternak — and support staff Erin Young, Brenda Hennig and Yvonne Van Ryk for their efforts all season.
“As a staff, you want to teach them and make them better football players,” he said. “But the bigger goal is to make them better people, and I think we’ve accomplished that goal, even if we’re not playing next week for a championship.”
Between graduating 18-year-old players Bradley Wilson, Damian McCuaig-Jones, Alex Van Ryk, Billy Bickford, James Bonner, Daniel DeVries, Chris Hood, Dennis McDonnell, Spencer McLaughlin, Gavin Spencer, Brooks Branchi and Tyson Duffe, and international students John Cesar and Richardo Chiaparini, who return to Brazil in January, the Bulldogs are losing a sizable chunk of their roster.
“Some of them came in to football for the first time, some played for multiple years, and some were back after absences,” Williams said. “Every one of them contributed a lot to our success this year.”