B.C. high school football gets its first No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown under Friday night lights
Howard Tsunamura, The Province October 5, 2011
VANCOUVER — Forget about the fact that they have near-identical surnames.
W.J. Mouat’s Denis Kelly and St. Thomas More’s Bernie Kully are two head football coaches who know enough about each other’s playbooks, that in a pinch, each could run the other’s team’s practice for an afternoon.
Of course, that’s not going to happen this week.
Not with Kully’s No. 1-ranked St. Thomas More Knights playing host to Kelly’s No. 2-ranked W.J. Mouat Hawks in the Triple A Eastern Conference opener for both teams on Friday (7 p.m.) at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.
While Mouat has grown accustomed to just such marquee matchups over the past few seasons, Friday represents STM’s biggest conference game since the 2007 Pepsi Bowl when the No. 2 Knights fell 40-34 to No. 1-ranked, eventual B.C. champion Holy Cross of Surrey in a regular-season ending battle of unbeatens.
Yet as the two head coaches spoke earlier this week about all the challenges each faces, a pair of trends clearly emerged.
From a St. Thomas More perspective, how is the Knights defence going to prepare for a Mouat offence which has shown a chameleon-like ability to adapt from week to week to the weaknesses of whatever defensive unit it happens to be facing?
And from a Mouat perspective, how will its offensive poise be tested snap-to-snap by the Knights’ penchant for bringing a number of different blitz packages.
“Any time I have seen a Denis Kelly team, they come out in a certain formation, with a couple of plays tailored to that formation,” says Kully, who got even more proof when he saw the effectiveness of the Hawks’ short-passing game last Saturday in a 42-14 win over former No. 2 Vancouver College. “Then the next week, they will come out in a different formation with another three to four plays they emphasize.”
The STM staff is preparing its team for the unknown by grounding them in the Mouat basics: The Hawks love motion, misdirection, bootlegs and using their guards to pull and create gaps.
On the other side, Kelly sees a hungry STM team that has grown much more confident since the Hawks drubbed them 35-7 in their 2010 league matchup.
“They have great talent at quarterback with (Mikey) Carney,” says Kelly. “They have fast, elusive backs, and they have big linebackers (Kyle Madden, Elliot Nelson) that really like to blitz and mess up your blocking schemes. St. Thomas More is very pressure-oriented. So because they blitz so much, and they like to fly around so much, you have to adjust what you do defensively.”
Of course there is so much more to the matchup.
STM’s stable of running backs runs a legitimate six deep, and when push has come to shove, both Nelson and Madden have been able to grind out the important yards at the right time.
W.J. Mouat has characterized itself on offence by some poise of its own, starting with quarterback Daniel Markin, who has used his feet as effectively as his arm to create plays in the clutch. Deion Bain has become a big-play receiver, and running back Devin Logan has become the kind of player that has turned hard-working, early yardage gains into big, game-breaking plays.
“Deion is pivotal because if you overemphasize (stopping) the run, he will beat you on the pass,” said Kully, who also acknowledged the success the Hawks had against the Irish by passing over the middle on quick hitters to its tight end pairing of Jake Heathcote and David Park. “And (Logan) has speed. He is well suited to Denis’ schemes. You have to account for him every play because if the ball is in his hands and he gets a couple of yards, he can break it.”
And while it’s just the first of five league games for both teams, Kelly warns that how each team reacts to Friday’s outcome will say a lot about the rest of their respective campaigns.
“One of us will be behind a little right off the bat,” he says. “But how you react as the victor or the loser will show the quality of the teams. You have to play five and see where the chips fall and there are so many other good teams in our conference.”