How do you tell a group of 12 and 13 year old boys that life isn’t over?
In the seconds following an emotionally crushing defeat, how do you tell them that they’ll have better days?
How do you make them understand that something that has become more than ‘just a game’ over the last five months is in fact just that, a game?
A provincial football final is insignificant in the big cosmic picture, and a 26-22 loss by the Chilliwack junior bantam Giants to the White Rock Titans on Sunday in Langley will have little long-term impact on the lives of the 70 or so teenagers who played.
But for the 34 players in red and blue who shared blood, sweat and tears and dreamed of winning a championship, don’t tell them it was ‘just a game.’
“Some of you guys are hanging your head and you’re upset,” said head coach Ian Parks afterwards, his voice breaking with emotion. “That means you care and that’s a great thing because you guys had each others’ backs all year. The fact that you guys care about each other so much, and you care about the score of this game means a lot to me as a coach.
“Please hold your head up high because not too many players get this far. Please be proud of this season because you fought hard.”
It was one of the better football games you’ll ever want to see, playing on frozen turf at McLeod Athletic Park, with the first snow flakes of the fall drifting lightly through the air.
White Rock’s Hudson Bromley got the scoring started on the first Titans offensive play of the game, running 40 yards for the touchdown.
White Rock’s defensive game plan centered around keeping Yapo Conteh in check, and through Chilliwack’s first four series it worked well. The Titans swarmed to No. 99 every time he touched the ball, and even Conteh couldn’t fight through 12 tacklers.
But great players find a way to make great plays.
With White Rock on offence late in the second quarter, Conteh ripped the ball out of the arms of a Titan running back and ran it back 39 yards for a major. Charlie Larson booted the convert for an 8-6 Chilliwack lead.
Then, a stunning turnaround.
On the very last play before half time, Bromley took a handoff and was met in the backfield by several Chilliwack defenders. He was stood up and driven back in the very definition of a ‘stuffed run.’
Somehow he got away.
Even the original ‘Beast Mode,’ Marshawn Lynch, would look at the replay and wonder how the kid did it, but 61 yards later No. 8 was in the endzone and the Titans went into the break with a 12-8 lead.
White Rock took the kick to open the second half and put together a seven play drive that ended with another TD and an 18-8 lead.
But there was no quit in Chilliwack.
The Giants switched to a wildcat formation in the second half, with Conteh taking shot-gun snaps.
The strategy paid immediate dividends with Conteh ripping off a 54 yard ‘Beast Mode’ TD run of his own, breaking at least six tackles on a 67 yard dash up the right sideline.
That cut the deficit to 18-16.
On Chilliwack’s next series, Conteh pumped faked a pass and took off again on 67 yard run.
Larson booted another PAT and as the fourth quarter began, Chilliwack led 22-18.
But Bromley had one last play to make.
The White Rock RB sliced his way through the Giants D on a 65 yard run, giving the Titans a 26-22 lead with 6:19 to play.
Twice in the last 379 seconds, Chilliwack had the ball inside White Rock’s 20 yard line, close enough to smell the winning points.
Twice the Titans turned them away.
The game was finally decided with 30 seconds remaining when White Rock stopped Conteh on a third-and-five, stacking him up and slamming him backwards into the concrete-like field.
Conteh was injured, and would stay on the field for 10 minutes before finally being carried off.
With the outcome no longer in doubt the referee twirled his orange flag in the air to end the game.