A 48 yard field goal sailed wide left in the final minute, and GW Graham held on for a 23-22 win over Abbotsford last Friday night.
The Grizzlies and Panthers met in an epic battle of high school football unbeatens on the turf at Abby Collegiate.
The Grizzlies and Panthers, who may well meet in a provincial title game later this month, lived up to the hype in the type of game that can fuel a rivalry for years.
The Panthers had Notre Dame-bound senior Chase Claypool. The Grizzlies had the willingness and ability to knock the snot out of him.
In the end, it was GWG’s physicality that made the difference as the bullies in blue wrecked Claypool and left Abbotsford bruised and beaten.
The Panthers knew it was coming on their very first offensive play when quarterback John Madigan dropped back and looked for Claypool.
Grizzlies defensive back Emerson Smith got there a bit early, hammering Claypool a full second before the ball arrived.
The Grizzlies hit No. 21 in red every chance they got on offence and defence.
Lining up in the Abbotsford secondary, Claypool came up in run support and was bashed time and time again by GWG’s battering ram running back, Von Richardson.
Though Claypool caught a touchdown pass for Abbotsford’s first major, by the end of the first half he was clutching his right hip and limping noticeably. Through most of the second half, he was little more than a decoy, a shadow of his usual self.
“That first hit by Emerson shook him up and you could tell he wasn’t the same after that,” said GWG cornerback Ethan Mastin, who was charged with covering Claypool. “After a few more hits with Von running into him and us just beating on him, we really wore him down.”
The Grizzlies opened the scoring in this one in an unusual way, when an errant shotgun snap sailed two feet over Madigan’s head.
Madigan fell on the ball in his own endzone, giving GWG a safety and a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers did better on their next series, a four play drive that started at their 25 and ended with the Claypool major.
Then it was GWG’s turn.
Taking the ball at their own 20, the Grizzlies marched downfield on the back of Richardson, who pounded into the Panther line again and again.
On fourth and goal from the six yard line, quarterback Gabe Olivares found Emerson Smith at the front right pylon for a 9-7 lead.
With Abbotsford up 13-9 late in the first half, Mastin turned in his first field-tilting effort when he returned a punt 65 yards to the Panther 25.
Richardson barrelled in from the one yard line four plays later, and it looked like GWG would escape to the break with a 16-13 lead.
But with time ticking down, Panther running back Richard Tshimpaka found room off left tackle and rambled 78 yards to the GWG 15.
The Panthers got into the endzone with 35.8 ticks left on the clock, took a 20-16 lead into the locker-room and looked forward to receiving the second-half kickoff.
The Panthers started on their own 39 and looked to have broken the game open on another long Tshimpaka run. But his TD scamper was called back on a holding penalty, setting the stage for Mastin’s second game-changing play.
No. 28 intercepted Madigan on a long pass down the left sideline, putting his offence back on the field.
“They were driving down the field so it came at a very good time,” Mastin said. “Even with Chase out of the game they still have solid receivers. We had to stop them.”
The Panther D held and forced the Grizzlies to punt.
But the home team was stunned by a brilliant bit of trickery when Jordon Breuker took a direct snap and barrelled 46 yards down the left side for what would be the game-winning TD.
“We don’t have a huddle on our punt team, just kind of a secret code if we’re going to do something,” Mastin explained. “We all heard it and blocked it as best as we could.”
Cut ahead now to 3:50 remaining and the Grizzlies clinging to a 23-20 lead.
Their offence went three-and-out deep in their own end and faced a choice.
They could punt, but after the return Abby could already be in range for a game-tying field goal.
They could concede a two-point safety, kick it deep and make the Panthers drive the length of the field for a game-winning kick.
The Grizzlies opted for the safety, cutting their lead to 23-22, then watched in dismay as the ensuing kickoff was short.
Abbotsford took the ball on their own 50 with 2:39 on the clock, about 25-30 yards away from field goal range.
Only now, the kick wouldn’t tie the game.
It would win it.
The Panthers ran four plays before stalling, and with under a minute to play kicker James Parker was called upon for a 48 yard try.
It’s a tough kick for a professional, let alone a high schooler. Parker had the distance he needed, but not the accuracy.
“We have a good kicker in Spencer (Breslin), but theirs is really good too,” Mastin said. “We knew he could make that kick, and as soon as he missed it, it was, ‘Yes! We came up with the win!’”
The Grizzlies breathed a massive sigh of relief, kneeled down once to kill the clock and went into celebration mode.
One regular season game to play (Saturday at Mission).
“It was a heckuva game,” Mastin said.
Richardson led the offence, carrying the ball 29 times for 202 yards (6.97 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
Breuker added five carries for 71 yards, including the fake punt.
Olivares didn’t have great passing stats, completing six of 15 for 59 yards.
Emerson Smith was the receiving leader, catching three balls for 30 yards.
Tyler Sprott caught two for 32.
Richardson was also the leader on the defensive side with nine tackles.
Smith had eight and Cainen Bergh seven. Breuker added six plus two quarterback sacks, with Dakota Mathers also dropping Madigan.