W.J. Mouat Hawks head coach Denis Kelly's initial plan heading into Friday's AAA high school football playoff opener was for star running back Maleek Irons to stay on the bench as much as possible.
Irons had suffered a leg bruise in the Hawks' regular season finale vs. St. Thomas More the previous week. It was a minor injury, and he was available to play, but Kelly preferred not to risk it.
The record-breaking rusher, though, proved to be too tantalizing a talent to leave on the sideline. You don't leave a Ferrari in the garage, right?
So Kelly allowed his senior star six carries, and he made the most of them, rushing for 155 yards – including touchdown scampers of 64 and 49 yards – as the Hawks thumped the Notre Dame Jugglers 49-24 at Mouat Field.
"We were trying to maybe not use him much at all," Kelly acknowledged.
"Of course, you get in a situation where you know that he's the one who can run that play particularly well. So you give it to him, and then he scores. You get kind of intoxicated with what you can do, right?"
The Jugglers hung with the Hawks through one quarter of play, trailing 21-12 thanks to a kickoff return TD and a major set up by another lengthy return.
But Mouat stepped on the gas at that point, with Grade 11 speedster Slater McRae doing much of the damage when Irons wasn't making his devastatingly effective cameos. McRae shook loose for TD runs of 30 and 45 yards, and Jacob Dodd hit the century mark in rush yards with 101 yards and a TD on 11 carries.
Quarterback Hunter Struthers also rushed for a TD and hit tight end Jacob Firlotte for a 25-yard major, while Clovis Lumeka (11 tackles, one sack) paced the defence.
The Hawks move on to face the Handsworth Royals of North Vancouver in the next round. That game goes at 3 p.m. next Friday at Windsor Secondary.
"They're smaller than Notre Dame, but they're skilled," Kelly said of the Royals. "They've got an excellent offence . . . and they're scrappers. They were out here watching us tonight, so they'll be ready."
HANSEN 14, WINDSOR 7
With the Rick Hansen Hurricanes' season hanging in the balance, Brandon Ho came through with an absolutely massive defensive play.
The Hurricanes were clinging to a seven-point lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter of their AA playoff opener at Abbotsford Senior's new turf field, and the Windsor Dukes had driven down to the Hansen 10 yard line. But Ho, the Hurricanes' star linebacker, tracked down a Dukes receiver running a reverse, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.
The offence was able to run out the clock from there as Hansen punched its ticket to the second round.
"They were marching the ball and they had an opportunity, and that's football," head coach Paul Gill said. "Brandon made a great play."
The Hurricanes had opened the season with a 33-6 road win over Windsor on Aug. 30 during non-conference play, but they found out their North Vancouver foe had come a long way since then.
"It was a lot closer than we anticipated," said Gill, whose squad is ranked No. 5 in AA. "But it's playoffs, and anything can happen . . . They're well-coached."
QB Alex Ho, Brandon's twin brother, and receiver Zach Toews combined for the big offensive plays for the 'Canes – they collaborated on a 31-yard passing TD in the first quarter, and hooked up again for a 10-yarder with five minutes left in the fourth quarter to snap a 7-7 tie.
Brandon Ho carried the ball 11 times for 85 yards, while other standouts on the defensive side of the ball included Shaiheem Charles-Brown (three sacks), Prem Singh (nine tackles), Toews (nine tackles) and Brad Atkinson (seven tackles, two passes breakups).
CARSON GRAHAM 35, BATEMAN 18
It's never pleasant to suffer a season-ending loss, but the Robert Bateman Timberwolves were extra sour in the aftermath of their road defeat to the Carson Graham Eagles after controversial call transformed the complexion of the game.
Bateman had taken a 6-0 lead into halftime, but the Eagles came roaring out of the locker room to score two touchdowns early in the third quarter to seize the advantage.
The Timberwolves responded with a drive down to the Carson Graham one yard line, where senior running back Ben Cummings took a handoff and extended the ball to break the plane of the goal line.
From the perspective of the Bateman contingent, there was no question the ball was across the line, and one referee may have even signalled touchdown. But the ball came loose, and the Eagles' A.J. Blackwell picked it up and returned it the length of the field to the far end zone.
After a lengthy huddle, the officiating crew awarded Carson Graham a TD, stunning the T-Wolves. Instead of potentially tying the game, they were suddenly down by two majors.
The pivotal play "deflated the kids," Bateman head coach Alfred Brathwaite said, and the Eagles rolled from there.
In the aftermath, T-Wolves players, supporters and football staff took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the officiating, but Brathwaite declined the opportunity to rip the refs.
"A lot of the kids were very, very upset," he noted. "It was the best game I've seen them play all year. They poured their hearts into this game, and they poured their hearts out afterward.
"We had a great season."
Cummings was outstanding in defeat, scoring all three Bateman majors – one on the ground, and two on passes from QB Tanner Friesen.