The Vanderhoof Vikings junior bantam football team has discovered a new weapon: the passing game.
Tyler Lang hadn't been a receiving target all season for the Vikings, but against the Prince George Axemen on Saturday Lang hauled in two third-quarter touchdown catches. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they did not have an answer for Axemen running back Colburn Pearce, who scored five touchdowns and added two converts in a 40-19 win over the visitors from Vanderhoof.
The 21-point margin of victory might seem one-sided until you consider how the Vikings lost 70-0 on opening day in the two-team Prince George Minor Football Association junior bantam division. Until Saturday's game, their 42-6 loss the previous week was as close as they'd come.
"They've started passing a lot more and we haven't really worked on that because since the start of the season they've just run No. 25 [Corbin Brown] up the middle, so we need to work on that so that can't just pass over top of us," said Pearce. "I think that was smart of them to figure that out."
Brown and Kostas Bach had success throwing the ball for the Vikings and that means Brown doesn't have to be the catalyst on every offensive play.
"The passing game has been working for us, we try to make it look we're going to run the ball and we'll throw it deep," said Brown. "On defence, we know Colburn's a really fast kid he's going score some touchdowns on us, he has over 20 already, but we'll do our best to try to stop him.
"Coming from 70-0, we've really improved. We're staying positive and having fun and that's what this game is all about."
The Vikings struggled with a small roster earlier in the season but the addition of four players from Quesnel and three new ones from Vanderhoof have improved the team's depth. The Vikings have learned how to tackle and how to block and it's made a world of difference.
For the first time all season they opened the scoring. Kyle Boivin, a defensive end in his first year of football, pounded across the goal line on a two-yard run, set up by a long run from Brown. Pearce had three majors in the first half, two off running plays and the third a punt return to give the Axemen a 19-7 lead by halftime.
"The little successes are our wins," said Vikings head coach Eric Lytle.
"At the beginning of the year we had kids who couldn't do one pushup and now all the kids are doing 20 or 30 pushups. We never tackled Colburn Pearce once in the first two games and now we're getting him once in a while."
Pearce, a six-year veteran at 13, has made it a habit this season of shredding defences with his shifty fakes and agile leaps to avoid tackles and he demonstrated that ability on more than a few occasions Saturday Once he shifts into high gear, Pearce wins most footraces to the goal line. After Lang's first touchdown, Pearce turned a lot of nothing into something on the next series, running practically the width of the field before he headed upfield without getting tackled on a 42-yard TD run.
At the end of the third quarter, Brown fired a short pass to Lang, who ran up the sideline 68 yards for his second major of the day. Pearce also plays quarterback and the Vikings got in his face near the end of the game when Aaron Bach sacked him at the Vikings' 41-yard line. But on third-and-long, Pearce stepped out of the pocket, took off and ran 30 yards, and Andrew Johnson finished the drive with a 10-yard score.
Axemen receiver/linebacker Jenna Forrest, the only female in the junior bantam division, took up the tackle game after two seasons of flag football and she has no regrets.
"This is like a second family, I love it," said Forrest. "It's just like playing flag or being on a soccer team. I just learned how to hit through practice and watching the NFL with my mom and stepdad."
With the win, the Axemen improved to 5-0, while the Vikings dropped to 0-5. The same teams will meet again this Saturday but the Axemen will be without Pearce while he competes in the cross-country running zone championships in Vanderhoof.
The league champion advances to a regional playoff next month in Vernon against the sixth-place team in the Okanagan league. The winner of that game faces the first-place Okanagan team. To make that possible, Vanderhoof and Prince George agreed to switch from nine-man football to a 12 players per side