Sardis Falcons crush Sullivan Heights in home opener

Returning to the gridiron after a 35 year absence, Sardis treated the home crowd to a 42-0 victory.

The first football game for Sardis secondary in three-and-a-half decades couldn’t have gone any better.

The Falcons clobbered the Sullivan Heights Stars by a 42-0 count Saturday afternoon at Exhibition Stadium, sending notice to their foes in the AAA Pacific Division.

They may be new, but they are well-coached, talented and will be a tough out for any team they face.

DJ Stephens made that statement on the first offensive play of the game.

Lined up in the backfield next to Falcons QB Josh Janssen, the Grade 9 receiver bobbled a direct snap, but recovered quickly and took off around right tackle. Stephens bolted 63 yards down the sideline, etching his name into the history books with the first Sardis touchdown.

“It was a beaut, honestly,” said running back Justin Crooks, who raised his arms in the air as Stephens dashed to the endzone. “I was feeling a little nervous before the game, even though I thought we could take it, but I had a lot of faith in my team and I’m proud of these boys.”

After the defence forced a quick three-and-out by the Stars, the Falcons scored again.

On just their fourth offensive play of the game, Janssen connected with receiver Nick Butler on a 24 yard scoring strike.

Crooks rumbled in for the two-point convert and a 14-0 Sardis lead.

No. 3 was a beast all game.

Crooks ran through Sullivan Heights tacklers like a giant stomping through a field of daisies. It took two, three or more Stars to bring him down most plays and they paid the price for trying as he finished every run hard.

His dominance in the ground game opened things up for Janssen and the Falcon air attack.

Operating behind an offensive line that didn’t allow a single sack, Janssen finished the day with five passing majors.

Butler caught two. Stephens, Kurtis Flynn and Ryan Jansen caught one each.

With the score 36-0 at halftime, the Falcons were able to go deep into their bench in the second half, getting just about every player on the field.

Sawyer Tether, who needs a growth spurt just to reach the helmets of some of his taller teammates, ran like a player twice his size, prompting one of his coaches to call him ‘Pinball.’

There was just as much to like on the defensive side of the ball.

Sullivan Heights came out trying to run into the teeth of the Sardis defence, and got nowhere. Playing his first game of football, ever, Eric Gustfson led a line that stifled the Stars ground game and harrassed their QB.

Pressure led the Stars pivot to chuck up a rainbow late in the second quarter that was intercepted by Stephens and led to a Sardis major. Ben Frost also had an interception and Kaiden Tether had a would-be pick go through his mitts.

Gustfson recovered a fumble and had a quarterback sack.

The Falcon D didn’t allow a first down until less than three minutes remained in the second quarter.

“When the coaches watch the film they’re going to like what we did up front with the linemen and the linebackers,” Gustfson said. “We did a good job getting in there and making tackles.”

But, the Sardis performance wasn’t perfect, and better opponents might make them pay for their mistakes.

The Falcons drew far too many penalties, including a handful of unnecessary roughness fouls. If not for self-inflicted wounds they could have pushed the score into the 60s.

That gives them something to work on this week as they prepare for a road game Friday at Earl Marriott. But for the 35 young men in white and green, the only memories they’re going to have from Saturday’s game are happy ones.

“Like Justin, I was a little nervous before the game started, but after you get the first hit you don’t feel any nerves after that,” Gustfson said. “Today meant the world to me. We’ve been practicing real hard and we wanted to come out and do this for Rick Klassen.”

In a halftime ceremony, the No. 31 jersey that Klassen wore when he played at Sardis in the 1970s was retired, with the current Falcons lining up to watch. None of them are old enough to have watched Klassen play, but they seemed to appreciate what his legendary legacy means to Sardis football.

“I never met him, but I know he’s an inspiration to Sardis and probably one of the greatest athletes who ever played,” Crooks said.

A new No. 31 Falcons green jersey has been framed and will hang in the school where players can see it every day.

“Before I joined the football team, I hadn’t heard of him,” Gustfson admitted. “But they started telling us about him and all the things he did (10 year CFL career, 1985 Grey Cup champ), and I know winning today meant the world to his family and would have meant the world to him.”

Klassen passed away in December, 2016 after losing a battle with cancer.

After facing Earl Marriott and Spectrum (Sept. 21), Sardis will have a bye week. The next home game isn’t until Oct. 5 when the Falcons host Rutland at Exhibition Stadium.

See for scores, schedules and standings.

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