Down by 15 points early in the third quarter, the Saskatoon Hilltops rallied to score the game’s final 17 points to capture their third straight Canadian Bowl championship.
The Hilltops turned a 21-6 deficit into a 23-21 lead as they defeated the Langley Rams on Saturday (Nov. 10) afternoon at McLeod Park.
The Rams, which moved to Langley just two years ago after decades in Surrey, were in search of their first Canadian Bowl championship while the Hilltops won for the 16th time, including the seventh time in the past dozen years.
After the game, Hilltops coach Tom Sargeant, still wet from his Gatorade shower, said his fifth-year veterans led the way.
“We needed to get some energy and find a way to make plays and Mike Waldron is the one that gave us that shot in the arm,” Sargeant said. “We have a champions heart.”
“At the end of the day, someone had to come up with the win and today it was us.”
With Saskatoon trailing 21-6, Clayton Sarich forced the fumble which Waldron recovered — his second of the game — and returned to the Langley five-yard line.
Following the turnover, the Hilltops’ Andre Lalonde scored to make it 21-13 and they never looked back.
“After that, the offence got a little bit of confidence and then we were able to rock and roll,” Sargeant said.
“We are a team that thrives on making big plays.”
The long-time coach — he is in his 15th year as head coach and has been on the Hilltops’ staff for 26 seasons — was impressed by a Langley squad he knew little about, other than what he saw on tape.
“They are a lot better on the field than they are on tape,” he said. “They have speed (and) the way they attack the ball, that is something we are not used to.
“That is as good a football team as I have seen in awhile.”
The Rams led 14-6 at the half and Saskatoon squandered a great chance to pull within a point after throwing an interception in the Langley end zone with a minute to go before intermission.
“We didn’t play well (in the first half) but the reason was Langley was better than us,” Sargeant said.
“We needed to man up and figure out a few adjustments and come out with a concerted game plan.
“We didn’t change much, we just needed to do it better.”
Part of the team’s adjustment was running a couple of fake punts.
“We ran three or four fakes and a couple worked and a couple didn’t,” he said. “But at the end of the day, that was part of our plan. We didn’t want Six (Nick Downey) touching the ball; he is a special player.”
The Hilltops won despite committing four turnovers, as Tanner Hamade picked off a pair of passes, while Carlo Graziano intercepted a throw in the end zone and Nick Felicella also picked off a pass.
The Rams fumbled twice and also had an interception.
Afterwards, Langley coach Jeff Alamolhoda said they win as a team and they lose as team.
“A couple of mistakes down the stretch cost us,” he said.
“Everyone put forth the effort, we just didn’t come up with the outcome that we wanted to at the end.”
With two minutes remaining, the Rams did get to the Saskatoon 32-yard line, but an incompletion, then a holding call and then a block in the back pushed the team out of field goal range. But that would be the last time the Langley offence touched the ball.
Alamolhoda was proud of his team.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” he said. “They come in here and tell us it is David vs. Goliath and 23-21 in my opinion, with an opportunity for us to win the game down the stretch …. isn’t David vs. Goliath in my opinion.”
The second-year coach said his team gained something from the game.
“I talked about what we are: family,” he said about the message he delivered to his solemn players afterwards.
“Regardless of what happened today, we have created things here, in the program, that the guys will take forever. Those are the memories and your brothers that you will never lose.”
“They didn’t get the win they wanted, but they gained a lot more; they just don’t know it yet,” he added.
“We are a team that is building a foundation here and we are going to continue to do that. We just have to continue what we are doing and bring good people into the program.”
A breakdown of the 2012 Canadian Bowl
After a scoreless first quarter on Saturday, the Langley Rams drew first blood on the opening play of period two, with quarterback Greg Bowcott hitting Malcolm Williams with a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone.
The Saskatoon Hilltops answered back with a pair of short field goals as twice they got into the Langley red zone, but both times, the Rams defence held firm.
And then with time winding down in the first half, Bowcott hit Michael Patko with a 60-yard touchdown pass as the receiver broke several tackles at midfield, got a huge block from Malcolm Williams and then sprinted away from the defence.
Saskatoon nearly got those points back as they once again drove into the Rams end zone, but with some great pressure from the defence forced Saskatoon quarterback Jared Andrychuk to make a poor throw which Carlo Graziano was able to pick off a throw in the end zone for the 14-6 lead at the half.
Daniel Xavier extended the lead to 21-6 in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run.
The Hilltops got back into the game after recovering a Nick Downey fumble and running the ball back to the Langley six-yard line. And this time, they would not be forced to settle for the field goal as Andre Lalonde punched the ball in on the next play to pull within eight points.
In the fourth quarter, Zack Schmidt would kick his third field goal of the game to pull the Hilltops within five points.
And after the Rams had the ball close to midfield on the next possession, Bowcott was picked off and Saskatoon took advantage with Graham Unruh — the offensive player of the game with 208 yards on six catches— hauling in a long touchdown pass from Matt Karpinka along the left sideline for the Hilltops first lead.
The Rams would have a couple of possessions, but could not get into field goal range and then with about 90 seconds remaining, the Hilltops were able to gain a couple of first downs which allowed them to kill the rest of the clock.
Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
A dejected Tanner Hamade of the Langley Rams, who had two interceptions, can only sit and watch as the Saskatoon Hilltops celebrate their 23-21 victory at McLeod Bowl on Nov. 10 in the 2012 Canadian Bowl. Above photo: Saskatoon Hilltops offensive lineman Mat Cheung is jubilant as he hoists the Canadian Bowl championship trophy.