In the wake of his team’s thrilling 14-13 win over Vancouver College in the B.C. AAA high school football semifinals on Saturday, W.J. Mouat Hawks coach Denis Kelly was left with a powerful sense of déjà vu.
Back in 2005, in the provincial title game against Van College, the game came down to a missed extra point. In the fourth quarter, Mouat defensive lineman John Smeysters burst through the line to get a hand on Fighting Irish kicker Brody McKnight’s extra-point attempt, and it was the difference in a 7-6 Mouat victory.
Fast forward to Saturday, and a missed extra point was once again the difference.
Van College appeared poised to level the score when Liam Mahara dove into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line with just over five minutes remaining. But Fighting Irish senior Justin Sanvido pushed his kick wide, allowing the Hawks to escape with a one-point victory.
Mouat moves on to the AAA title game for the third time in four seasons, and they’ll face the Mount Douglas Rams of Victoria at B.C. Place next Saturday.
“It was almost the exact same thing,” marveled Kelly, recalling that memorable ’05 title game.
“It wasn’t pretty, we made some errors. But what the heck – we’re in the final.”
Playing in a steady drizzle at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium, the defences ruled on this night. The Hawks’ offence struggled to get untracked in the first half, as Van College put eight men in the box in an effort to slow star Mouat tailback Devin Logan.
The Irish largely kept the ball on the ground, and the Mouat defence did a commendable job of slowing Sanvido, who also plays tailback for the Irish and was the provincial AAA rushing leader.
The two teams battled to a 7-7 stalemate in the first half, with the Hawks’ lone touchdown coming on a one-yard plunge by Logan.
When Vancouver College tried to stretch the field, Mouat’s defensive backs were more than up to the task. Tanner Strauss intercepted Van College QB Hunter Robinson late in the second quarter with the Irish driving in Hawks’ territory. Then, on the Irish’s first possession after halftime, Nathan Henczel hauled in an errant Robinson pass to snuff another promising drive.
Mouat took over on their own 21 yard line following the Henczel pick, and quarterback Daniel Markin led a methodical 79-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of game time.
Facing fourth and seven in Van College territory, the Hawks elected to go for it, and Markin kept the drive alive with an eight-yard carry. He would later cap the drive with a six-yard TD scamper, as he beat the Irish defenders to the left corner of the end zone.
Early in the fourth quarter, Markin threw a costly interception to Van College’s Stephen Blanchette that gave the Irish great field position at the Mouat 34. That turnover yielded the Mahara TD plunge, but Sanvido’s miss on the convert preserved the Hawks’ lead.
Afterward, Kelly expressed empathy for the VC kicker.
“This must be heartbreaking,” Kelly said. “He’s had such a good year and he’s such a great player.”
Markin, recapping the crucial touchdown drive, noted that the Hawks got a lot of tough yardage between the tackles on runs by Taylor Hinton and Maleek Irons.
“It was frustrating at times, I tell you,” he said with a relieved grin. “It was back and forth, and we were playing bad. Our defence stepped it up, and we somehow got away with that win.”
Saturday’s game marked the third consecutive year the Hawks and Irish have met in the B.C. semifinal. The Hawks won in 2009, and the Irish gained a measure of revenge with a victory last season en route to the B.C. title.
In many ways, this Hawks football season has been marked by sorrow. In June, cancer claimed longtime Mouat equipment manager John “Opa” Smeysters. In July, former wide receiver Desmond Bassi – a recent graduate ticketed for Simon Fraser University – was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
“We always eat a pregame meal (as a team), and we always put up a sign to remember Opa and Des,” Kelly said. “They’re always in our thoughts this season, and forever more, really. The kids really played with that kind of passion, I thought.”
The B.C. title game brings the Hawks’ season full-circle. They opened the campaign against Mount Douglas back on Sept. 9, and the two teams combined for 100 points in a 53-47 Mouat win in Victoria. Playing under the dome, the two teams have the potential to really light up the B.C. Place scoreboard.
“If we can play like McMaster did last night, then I think we’ve got a shot,” Kelly said with a chuckle, alluding to the Marauders’ thrilling double-OT win over Laval in the Vanier Cup on Friday at B.C. Place.
“It’s going to be a great game, and we’re going to prepare hard. I don’t know if it’ll be 100 points, but we should see in those perfect conditions, the offences do real good work.”