GW Graham running back

Score can’t dampen historic home opener in Chilliwack

The GW Graham Grizzlies football team played their first ever home opener Thursday in Chilliwack.

The Robert Bateman Wolves spoiled the storybook ending Thursday night, handing the GW Graham Grizzlies a 23-0 loss in their junior varsity football home opener.

But the scoreboard took a back seat to historical significance as the Grizzlies played the first high school game in Chilliwack in over 30 years.

The stands were full at Exhibition Stadium. Rick Klassen did the pregame coin toss. The Grizzly players ran through a banner on their way onto the field. Everything except the scoreboard was exactly as GW Graham head coach Laurie Smith had envisioned it would be when he helped start this team so many months ago.

“Wasn’t this fun?” he said to his troops afterwards, sporting an ear to ear grin.

“Our litmus test was, would it be anything like Lynden? And it was. It really was,” Smith said later, comparing Thursday night’s event to the team’s preseason trips to football-mad Lynden in Washington State. “We probably had 1,000 people in the stands, and it was electric. No other junior varsity team has what we just experienced. And next year, when we bring in the varsity program, it’ll be even better.”

If only the Wolves had been gracious visitors and gone down to defeat.

But between the sidelines, the Abbotsford team had a different script in mind.

The Grizzlies got the ball first and made a big splash on their second play when quarterback Jordan Breuker hooked up with Ryan Connolly for a 48 yard catch and run to the Bateman 35 yard line. But the drive fizzled two plays later when a Breuker pass was picked off by McKenzie Johnson.

The Wolves coughed up a fumble on their first series (recovered by Cainen Bergh), but rolled to a touchdown on their second, led by running back Austen Zacher.

No. 32 in white rolled around the right side and took off down the sideline for a 42 yard major and a 7-0 Bateman lead.

The Wolves hit paydirt again on their next possession, marching 65 yards and finishing with a four yard Zacher run.

Late in the second quarter, a Tristan Davis punt return set up the Grizzlies at the Bateman 25 yard line, with a chance to cut into the deficit before the break.

Two Breuker runs got them into the endzone, but the touchdown was called back on a holding penalty. GW Graham ended up gambling and failing on a fourth-and-13, turning the ball over to end the half.

“We made a few simple mistakes that we shouldn’t have, things like holding and offsides and blocks in the back,” Breuker said, assessing the offensive performance. “We’ll be working on that a lot in practice and hopefully we’ll do better next time. We did move the ball though, and our running backs did pretty well.”

The Grizzly defence stiffened in the second half, forcing several three-and-outs from the Bateman offence.

“I have to give it to the crowd because they were loud. They pumped us up a lot, and I think we did good,” said defensive end Diego Pineda. “We just had a couple broken plays they scored off of, but we’re getting it together.”

Despite good field position generated by the D, GW Graham’s offence couldn’t find traction.

When they did get a big play, it was inevitably followed up by a penalty. Illegal blocks were a favourite for the officiating crew, who also flagged the Grizzlies several times for illegal procedure.

Still, the game was theirs to win if only they’d made two or three plays.

A Billy Hanson fumble cost the team on one third quarter drive.

Cornerback Austin Creasy had a brilliant pass knockdown just before halftime, but let an interception slip through his hands in the third quarter. It would have been an easy run to the endzone had he held on.

The Wolves put the game away late in the fourth quarter.

On a third-and-one from the GW Graham 15 yard line, Bateman quarterback Josh Friskie turned a quarterback sneak into a major.

The Grizzlies conceded a two point safety in the waning seconds to wrap up the scoring.

“We didn’t play great tonight and we made a lot of mental errors that are frustrating,” Smith said. “I’ve seen them play better, and I hope they can relax and just play football now. The next four games, we’ll be on the road or at the school with not too many people there. There won’t be as much pressure and expectation. We’ll just play some football and hopefully have some success.”

The Grizzlies are on the road Wednesday, facing Rick Hansen.

The next home game isn’t until Oct. 24 when they host Abbotsford Collegiate.

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