Grade 8 Grizzlies advance to AAA title game

The GW Graham Grizzlies are shocking the BC high school football world. They'll play for a provincial title Dec. 1.

On Dec. 1 the GW Graham Grade 8 Grizzlies football team will take to the field at BC Place Stadium for a provincial title game against Notre Dame.

It will arguably be the most significant football game a team from Chilliwack has ever played.

Yes, there have been minor football teams who have advanced to provincial championships. The midget Giants did it in 2009 and the peewee Giants did it in 2010, coached by current GWG bench boss Laurie Smith.

Admirable accomplishments both, but here’s what makes the Grizzlies so exceptional.

We’re talking about a first year program.

At this time last year, GWG football was little more than a concept on paper. Starting a program is no small task and usually carries substantial growing pains. Taking a group of teenagers, some with football experience and some without, and moulding them into a winning team is supposed to take time and most coaches will be happy fielding a competitive team that might be good enough to make the playoffs.

So what do these kids do?

They roll through the regular season with just one setback. They lose 32-22 to Pitt Meadows in week one of the regular season, and they don’t look back. They finish 5-1, good for first place in their AA conference.

Then the fun really starts.

Smith’s crew is bumped up to the AAA playoffs. The reward for his middleweight squad is the opportunity to get clobbered by the AAA heavyweights.

“After our regular season finale, when we were in the handshake line with Abbotsford, their kids were literally laughing,” Smith said. “They thought it was hilarious because now we had to go face the top seed in AAA.”

In their playoff opener they travel to Burnaby to face the storied Vancouver College Fighting Irish,  one of the dominant programs in BC high school football.

The Grizzlies win, 24-18.

Fair enough. Any given Sunday right? They’ll get knocked back to Earth in the next one.

The next one is against the St. Thomas More Knights. On a chilly Monday night at the Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex, Emilio Pineda rips off 214 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Jared Lengert adds 72 yards and a major.

Down 14-8 to start the third quarter, the Grizzlies stay patient and run their single-wing offence to perfection.

Ethan Mastin leads a defence that shuts down the Knights, and when the final whistle blows, the scoreboard reads 30-14 and GWG is off to provincials.

Any given Sunday doesn’t happen twice in a row, does it?

At some point, you’ve got to tip your hat.

This isn’t a fluke. These kids are really, really good.

“Those traditional schools that win it every year, they’re big schools with 60-70 kids on the roster, and I’m excited that we’re able to compete at that level,” Smith observed. “And if we succeed in the final, it will be our school’s first provincial championship in any sport. Seven years of sports at GWG, and for us to come in and be the first would be remarkable.”

So they wait for Dec. 1 and a date with Notre Dame. This one’s under the big top with an 8:30 a.m.  start.

The Grizzlies face another storied program that just thwomped Lord Tweedsmuir 30-0, and Notre Dame will almost certainly be favoured to win.

But something special’s happening with these Grizzlies, and at this point, would anyone be crazy enough to bet against them?

“I was looking at the champions going back to 1920, because BC high school football has been around for a long time,” Smith said. “You can look back on 80 years of provincials and not see Chilliwack anywhere on there. For us to have this chance to become the first, that’s exciting.”

Catch a provincial preview in next Thursday’s Chilliwack Progress sports section.