Emilio Pineda ripped off a 58 yard touchdown run on GW Graham’s first offensive play of the second half, helping his Grizzlies secure their second straight AA junior varsity provincial crown.
The speedster’s TD broke the spirits of the scrappy Abbotsford Panthers, and GWG went on to a 23-13 win Saturday at BC Place Stadium.
GWG head coach Adam Smith talked all week about not being intimidated by the moment. His team had been there before, and looked calm and composed.
In a game filled with twists and turns, his Grizzlies drew first blood.
On their first series, GWG drove deep into Panther territory, with running backs Von Richardson and Gabe Olivares pounding out tough yards.
An Olivares fumble at the 13 yard line ended the drive, but the Grizzlies got the ball back on the very next play when Abby tailback Samwel Uko put the ball on the ground. GWG’s Jake Troyan recovered the fumble, and three plays later, Grizzly quarterback Wyatt Uzick dove across the goal-line.
Spencer ‘The Leg’ Breslin knocked the convert off the left post and in, giving GWG a 7-0 lead.
The Grizzlies doubled their lead early in the second quarter, with Richardson bulling over Panthers on a nine yard run.
The key play on the six play drive came from Ethan Mastin, who picked up 45 yards on an end-around. Breslin added a clean convert to make the score 14-0.
To their credit, the Panthers never backed down.
Abbotsford took the ensuing kickoff and executed an 18 play drive that ended with Uko barrelling in from the three yard line.
Tyson Reid’s convert kick made it 14-7 at halftime, and the Panthers got the ball to start the second half.
Taking the kickoff, Abbotsford rolled downfield on a 16 play drive that included four fourth-down conversions.
On fourth and seven, Panther pivot John Madigan found Reid on a 12 yard pass.
On fourth and eight another Madigan to Reid connection moved the chains, and the Panthers finished with a 10 yard scamper by Uko.
But, a botched snap thwarted the convert, leaving Abbotsford down 14-13.
Then, Pineda time.
From his own 42 yard line, No. 5 in blue found daylight off left tackle, shrugging off Panther defenders on his way to the endzone.
“When you’ve got three running backs who can pound it all day, having them all come together the way they did, I can’t say enough about those kids,” Smith said.
The Grizzlies led 20-13 after Pineda’s major and looked set for the knockout punch when Noah Dubosoff picked off a Madigan pass deep in Abbotsford territory.
But the Panther defence stiffened, holding GWG to an 18 yard Breslin field goal and a 23-13 lead.
The Abbotsford offence took the ball and drove down the field.
Fifteen plays landed them at the GWG three yard line, where they faced a fourth and one. Uko got the ball, running into the teeth of a Grizzly wall that stood him up and drove him back.
“I think that was the play of the game, because if they score on that they have momentum and I don’t know if we bounce back,” Uzick said.
With their backs to the goal-line, the last big play came from the quarterback. Facing a third and nine from his own three yard line, needing to take time off the clock, Uzick took the shot-gun snap. The Panthers pinned their ears back, came after him, and looked like they might take him down for a safety.
But the elusive pivot somehow escaped, breaking tackles on a 25 yard run to moved the chains and kept the clock moving.
“That was soooo close to a safety,” he confided to a GWG coach moments later.
“That was a big play there and the toughness he showed to keep battling, I’m proud of that kid for the heart he showed,” Smith noted.
Abbotsford would get the ball one more time, but with just over a minute to play, Breslin intercepted Madigan, and the Grizzlies were able to kill the clock with two kneel-downs, securing the title.
“Just knowing you’ve won the game’s over, you’re so happy and you can’t describe it, really,” Uzick said. “We worked so hard to get to this point, and being able to take a knee to end the game, it’s really nice.”
“It’s unbelievable and a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Richardson added with a grin. “We’ve been fortunate to have this twice, and hopefully we’ll have it a couple more times.”
With much of the junior talent set to move up to the senior squad, it’s possible GWG may be playing for another championship this time next year. In short order, the Grizzlies have become a BC powerhouse.
Smith has three provincial titles the last three years (one in Manitoba and two here).
The feeling doesn’t get old.
“Repeating feels pretty good, especially after losing as many guys as we did from last year’s team,” the coach said. “Bringing up younger guys and putting a core together shows a lot of heart and character. This was our goal from day one and nothing phased us. We just learned and got better.”