VANCOUVER — Denis Kelly heard all the laughter late Saturday night, which was pretty encouraging given the stops, starts and overall beat-down his football team has taken from weather, travel and general happenstance the past few weeks.
Sitting on the team bus headed from Kelowna to the home base in Abbotsford after snow had postponed its Subway Bowl quarterfinal contest against the host Owls, the head coach of the No. 2-ranked W.J. Mouat Hawks joined the rest of the players and coaches in watching an impromptu screening of the old Robin Williams movie Patch Adams.
In it, Williams plays an aspiring doctor who believes that laughter is the ultimate cure-all remedy. While randomly selected, it could not have been more appropriate.
“We’ve got 18 Grade 12s this year, and a lot of guys that are pretty even-keeled,” Kelly said Tuesday, one day after his team beat Kelowna 50-0 in Abbotsford in the re-scheduled game, setting up a B.C. semifinal contest Saturday (7:30 p.m., full schedule below) against No. 3 Vancouver College at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. It’s the rubber match of three straight meetings between the two teams in the B.C. semifinal game.
“We know there are certain things that we just can’t control,” continued Kelly. “So we spend a lot of time on the whole mental readiness part of it. But we don’t ever expect any of our games to start on time anymore.”
You can’t blame Kelly and Co. for their skepticism because nothing has gone smoothly for the Hawks the entire month of November.
It all started when Surrey’s Earl Marriott Mariners were forced to fold their program due to a lack of players in the days leading up to its Nov. 4 regular-season finale against the Hawks, happenstance that left Mouat without a dance partner one week before the start of playoffs.
Then, when the playoffs opened on Nov. 11, the team was forced to wait over four hours at B.C. Place Stadium when the two games that preceded its eventual 31-0 win over Terry Fox were each delayed, one by a bus stuck in bad weather, and the other when a number of players from the Lord Tweedsmuir team became trapped in a stadium elevator for almost two hours. Mouat’s game finished just before the stroke of midnight.
If that wasn’t enough, the team arrived in Kelowna on Saturday morning to a field so deep with snow that, as Kelly described it: “If you dropped the ball on the field, it would disappear.”
Now, the carryover effect from playing that game on Monday is a week of prep for the Irish that has been shortened by two days.
Nonetheless, the character-building tests of the last month have done nothing but sharpen the Hawks’ mental focus, especially from a defensive standpoint.
Over its last five games, not including its forfeit win over Marriott, Mouat has outscored the opposition 154-21 and all of those teams were either ranked or sitting in the honourable mention spots at some point during the regular season. And of those three touchdowns allowed, only two were surrendered by the defence.
The entire unit has been impactful, led by linebackers Jake Heathcote and Taylor Hinton, defensive ends J.D. Paul and Mitch Vedder and defensive back Nathan Henczel.
Mouat’s pass-and-catch duo of quarterback Daniel Markin and receiver Deion Bain has seemingly gotten better every week of the season, Markin throwing three touchdown passes in the win over Kelowna, including a pair to Bain.
Devin Logan’s game-breaking ability at tailback, along with strong inside running from both Hinton and Maleek Irons has given the Hawks their greatest offensive strength: Balance.
Kelly felt confident that his team would not be resting on the fact that it beat Vancouver College by a decisive 42-14 count earlier this season.
“We know exactly what we’re up against,” said Kelly. “And the Vancouver College team that we played on Oct. 1 is much different than where they’re at now. That game, to us, is in the ancient past.”
The Irish beat Notre Dame 35-14 in last Saturday’s quarterfinal, despite the fact 1,050-yard rusher Matt Alviz sat out with a sore knee. Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett said after the game that he expected Alviz to play this week.
“You have to loosen them up and run different formations to spread them out a little,” Kelly said of the Irish defence.
On the other side of the draw, No. 1-ranked St. Thomas More, which survived a scare Friday night and rallied with two late drives to hold off unranked Centennial 35-32, face a No. 4-ranked Mt. Douglas Rams team which is building confidence with its run game.
The Rams barely threw the ball in its 42-29 win over No. 5 Lord Tweedsmuir last Friday, instead preferring to ride a dual running game with backs Terrell Davis and Mason Swift.
(all games at UBC-Thunderbird Stadium)
5 p.m. — St. Thomas More vs. Mount Douglas
7:30 p.m. — Vancouver College vs. W.J. Mouat
12 p.m. — John Barsby vs. Vernon
2:30 p.m. — Ballenas vs. Mission