The Cowichan Bulldogs had trouble hanging on to the football last Sunday, but they overcame that challenge to earn a spot in the Vancouver Mainland Football League nine-man midget final.
The Bulldogs had six fumbles and threw two interceptions in the VMFL semifinal at McAdam Park, but still managed to beat the Pemberton Grizzlies 13-6.
“It’s rare that you can turn the ball over eight times and still win,” Cowichan head coach Mike Williams said. “But it was like a greased pig we couldn’t hold on to.”
The Bulldogs had multiple interceptions of their own, and controlled the game when they weren’t turning the ball over. If not for those ball-handling errors, the score could have been much higher in the Bulldogs’ favour.
“It was a convincing win,” Williams said. “We definitely played well.”
The Cowichan defence limited Pemberton to only nine positive-yardage plays. Ethan Close led the defence with five sacks and three tackles. The usual suspects on defence, linemen Dylan Taylor and Nicholas Young, were as solid as ever, but the Grizzlies seemed to know they should stay away from that part of the field. Fortunately, Close proved perfectly capable of handling an increased workload.
“They were running away from Dylan,” Williams pointed out. “Which led to most of Ethan’s stats.”
Defensive back Kilion VennRyan had two interceptions, although he fumbled one. First-year player Chris Hood recorded his first career pick in the first quarter, and carried the ball 55 yards before running out of gas at the 15-yard line. The Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the game a few plays later when quarterback Carson Maertz hit Dakota Cullum with a pass.
Pemberton got on the board when they managed to put together a couple of positive-yardage plays after Cowichan fumbled the ball near their own 20-yard line. Later that same quarter, Damian McCuaig-Jones went on an 83-yard romp to score the go-ahead touchdown.
As much as his team controlled most of the game, Williams admitted to being a little nervous about the result.
“A little bit,” he said. “It was still only a one-score game.”
Any concerns were put to rest late in the fourth quarter when a 65-yard punt by Cullum pinned the Grizzlies deep in their own end.
“I wasn’t worried about our D giving up big yardage after that,” Williams said.
The Bulldogs will face the White Rock Titans for the league and provincial championship, but both teams will have to travel to Kamloops, where all the nine-man football finals are taking place this weekend. The final will serve as the rubber match for the Bulldogs and Titans, who split their two meetings during the regular season. Cowichan won 12-6 when they squared off in White Rock, and the Titans prevailed 34-0 in their most recent showdown at McAdam Park.
The score of the second game isn’t indicative of how the teams stack up, Williams suggested.
“It was more a lack of mental preparation than a physical thing,” he said.
Standouts VennRyan and McCuaig-Jones were also unavailable for Cowichan’s home game against the Titans, but they will be in action this weekend.
“I feel OK,” Williams said. “We’ve got everybody doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We’re getting 100 per cent effort, 100 per cent of the time.”
The Bulldogs will be prepared for White Rock’s running game, which accounted for nearly all the damage the Titans did in the last meeting, and will also plan to use their air game to full effect.
“We’ve got to take advantage of our passing game,” Williams stated. “It’s nine-man, and they had seven on the line of scrimmage to stop our run. We’ve got to take advantage of what they give us.”