In the aftermath of his team’s 17-6 loss to the Terry Fox Ravens on Saturday evening at UBC, W.J. Mouat Haws running back Maleek Irons spoke softly as he pondered the end of his high school football career.
“I love my team more than anything, and it was a good season,” he offered. “I loved my high school football career, and I’ll remember it forever.”
Right back at you, Maleek.
It’s been a remarkable run for Irons, who set a new B.C. record for career rushing yards with 6,325.
But for the second straight year, he and his Hawks were sent home in the provincial AAA semifinals by a team that was simply bigger, stronger and deeper.
The Ravens, Mouat’s longtime nemesis from Port Coquitlam, managed to “limit” Irons to 150 yards on 33 carries on Saturday – and yes, 150 yards constitutes limiting him, since he came in averaging 249 yards per game this season. Fox’s defensive front was rock-solid, and every one of Irons’s yards was hard-earned.
That forced the Hawks to go to the air more than they generally prefer to, and they only had sporadic success in that department. Quarterback Hunter Struthers finished 11-of-27 for 111 passing yards, with the bulk of his completions to Slater McRae (six catches, 47 yards) and Jake Firlotte (four catches, 50 yards).
“We’re just not balanced enough to keep them at bay,” Hawks coach Denis Kelly acknowledged afterward. “We’ve got Maleek, but we’re just not as balanced as we could have been or should be to make our offence better. They were physical enough to take Maleek more or less out of the game, even though he did a good job for us.
“We probably just didn’t get him enough help overall.”
The Ravens’ physicality and depth was apparent from the opening kickoff, but the Hawks managed to scrap and claw and hang in until the bitter end.
After a scoreless first quarter, Ravens QB Conner McKee authored a pair of big plays in the second. On fourth-and-one from the Hawks’ 33 yard line, he broke through the line and scampered all the way to the end zone. And late in the half, he connected with a wide-open Brad Peters for a 33-yard scoring pass.
McRae, though, came up with a game-changing play midway through the third quarter, sliding in to recover the ball after Fox’s punt returner fumbled it.
Mouat took over on the Ravens’ 45 yard line and quickly advanced to the 30 on a personal foul penalty. Irons took it the rest of the way, capping the drive by taking an option pitch from Struthers and bulling his way into the end zone from three yards out. The extra point was blocked, keeping Fox’s lead at 14-6.
The Hawks’ next drive stalled in Ravens’ territory with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt. On the very next snap, Fox running back Michael West tore off a 66-yard run, setting the table for a field goal which seemed to salt the game away with under three minutes to go.
The Hawks, though, marched down the field and got to the Ravens’ six yard line with just over a minute left – a quick TD and a recovered onside kick, and they’d be back in business.
But Fox’s Jason Shamatutu picked off a Struthers throw at the goal line to seal the victory.
Irons finished with a team-high seven tackles on defence, while Manpreet Chhina and Clovis Lumeka chipped in with five apiece.
“They’re a great team,” Irons said of the Ravens. “They knew our offence, they studied us, they had a good plan against us.”
The outcome, not to mention the smashmouth texture of the game, was eerily similar to the regular-season match-up between the two teams – Fox beat Mouat 17-7 back on Oct. 4.
“We never gave up,” Kelly summarized. “It was a gutsy effort, and that’s all you can ask.”