Luke Acheson has been on the sideline for several G.W. Graham championship wins.
The Grizzlies won junior varsity football titles in 2013, 2014 and 2018, and each of those was special. But for Acheson, Saturday’s triumph was different.
It was the school’s first senior championship, and it came in the school’s first year at the AAA level.
“I still don’t know if it’s really set in,” Acheson said at a celebration event Monday morning at GWG. “But I can tell you that we don’t get a chance to do this if the village doesn’t do what they’ve done all year. That’s the administration. The parents and players. Coaches. Trainers. Managers. It was everybody, going above and beyond all year to make it happen and create amazing opportunities for the kids in our program.”
Acheson is always a little nervous before kickoff, but around 6:50 p.m. Saturday night there was more.
“I always feel a little unsure of the outcome and nervous for our program and players, but going into this one was different because of the magnitude of the game,” he admitted. “Win or lose, it was going to be an amazing success for our program, but you want the best for your guys and I was definitely feeling excitement.”
Internally, the Grizzlies were laser-focused on winning the game, but to outsiders they were essentially playing with house money just by being there. Few expected a first-year AAA team facing a powerhouse like Terry Fox to win, and the Ravens beat them 34-0 in a mid-season matchup.
“From the outside looking in, win or lose, it was going to be a win,” Acheson acknowledged. “But for our group, every game we go into, it’s about winning. The boys knew that, and our final week of practice was the very best week of practice we had all season. When our walk-through Friday night looked like a full-speed practice, with guys still getting after each other, I knew we were ready. I was almost concerned we weren’t going to have fresh legs because of how hard they were practicing, but I knew we were in for an amazing weekend.”
A big narrative coming into the game was the ‘revenge’ factor, but Acheson insisted payback for that midseason loss wasn’t on anyone’s mind leading up to the rematch.
“Any time you get into a provincial final, revenge goes out the window and you’re focused on your year-end goals,” Acheson said. “The championship. The ring. That takes precedence over getting back at a team for a previous loss. It was a good hard-fought battle when we met them the first time. We knew we were better prepared this time and revenge never came into the picture.”
What the midseason defeat did accomplish was showing Acheson’s crew what they needed to do to beat Terry Fox if they got a second chance.
“Watching film, we saw things that gave us confidence that going up against them (Terry Fox) a second time, we could be better prepared for their tempo and their smash-mouth type running game, and I think everybody felt confident we were going to have a much better showing,” he said. “We had a firm understanding of what their defense and offense was going to try to do. We game-planned for that, we were able to execute the game plan the way we wanted to and things worked out.”
When Acheson heard the word ‘dogfight’ on the sideline in the early going, he knew they were going be okay.
“The Ravens went down on their first drive and scored, and I think it was Tyson George-Kelly who said, ‘Alright boys, we’re in another dogfight,’” the coach recalled. “That gave me a huge sense of comfort because we’d been in dogfights all year. I knew the boys would rally around that and come out fighting. I knew if it came down to the end, we’d have a chance of winning.
“Sometimes culture beats strategy. When things get tough it’s not necessarily the X’s and O’s but the guy next to you that you can rely on to get you through it, and that’s how we’ve been successful all year.”