The Clarence Fulton Maroons play football in tough neighbourhood.
Their crosstown rivals, the Vernon Panthers, are perennial contenders for the provincial double-A varsity high school football crown, they’ve got triple-A opponents nearby in Rutland and it’s always an uphill climb to get a shot at Subway Bowl glory.
After a 2-2 season that placed the Maroons third in the Interior, that door of opportunity opened when the Argyle Pipers of North Vancouver declined their invitation to travel to Prince George to play the Northern Conference-champion College Heights Cougars in Saturday’s wild-card playoff at Masich Place Stadium.
On a cold and snowy night, the Maroons scored on the opening drive – a 34-yard screen pass from Quin Williamson to Dylan Wapple - and went on to end the Cougars’ season with a 35-18 triumph.
The five-foot-11, 185-pound Williamson and his scrambling abilities gave the Cougars trouble all night and he made the big plays under pressure to put the Maroons and their talented array of running backs in scoring position.
“This was the first snow game for our team but I think we played great,” said Williamson. “That felt real good to come out and establish the first run. This season we haven’t been coming out with the first touchdown and it was nice for our team to get our spirits up. We got this lucky spot because Argyle had to drop out and the boys were hungry to come up here and take that ‘W.’”
Maroons head coach Mike Scheller wasn’t too pleased with his team in the early going after a series of penalties stalled drives and he made it known from the sidelines that wouldn’t be tolerated. Fortunately for the Maroons, their lack of discipline was only a temporary roadblock.
“I was really happy with how our offence executed, we made a couple personnel adjustments and Quin had a fantastic game at quarterback and kind of led the way,” said Scheller. “Our offensive tackles blocked really well for him on those counter plays.”
The College Heights crowd huddled together to share body heat in the chilly concrete stands at Masich got a surge of excitement 3:14 into the second quarter when speedster Austin Adams took a punt return 80 yards to the house to bring the Cougars to within a point of tying it.
Williamson brought the Maroons deep into College Heights territory late in the second quarter and finished the drive punching through the middle across the goal line from four yards out. The Cougars answered with an impressive drive that started deep in their own zone. After a penalty moved the Cougars back to their own 10-yard line, quarterback Jerome Erickson found Hayden Matheson for three consecutive catches, aided by a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty. Erickson then completed another pass to Adams, who was hit after he stepped out of bounds on the faintly-marked field and the penalty gave the Cougars the ball with a first down on the Fulton 10. But on the ensuing snap, Erickson fumbled and Dayton Ingenhaag recovered the ball for the Maroons.
That turnover, right before the intermission, kept the Maroons ahead 14-6 and it had a demoralizing effect on the Cougars.
“Going in the half, being that close to the end zone it’s tough not to score because football’s a game of momentum and that was just a huge swing,” said Matheson.
“At the end of the day they were just more battle-tested than us. Their quarterback was fantastic and made a lot of really good plays outside of the pocket. They locked down in the red zone and converted on their third downs.”
Hayden Catt extended the Fulton lead late in the third quarter with a 25-yard run and Williamson hooked up with Karan Malhotra for a 35-yard TD catch followed by a Domenic Peterson convert for a 28-6 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Matheson scored on a 73-yard catch-and-run which Catt answered with a four-yard dash into the end zone. In the final minute, a 13-yard reception from Jared Cowan set the stage for Matheson, whose six-yard catch capped the scoring.
“They were dialed-in and prepared and they just took it,” said Cougars Grade 12 lineman Alex Ribeiro, who had a couple QB sacks to lead the College Heights pass rush.
The Maroons took away the outside lanes Adams loves to exploit and that held the Cougars’ fastest receiver and most deadly offensive threat in check.
“That’s a really good team over there and it’s not a knock against the other teams in the North but we don’t have that level of competition up here,” said Cougars head coach Grant Erickson. “We’re very close to that calibre, I knew we would be. Everybody played their hearts out and we were definitely competitive.”
The Cougars had just four Grade 12 seniors and potentially could return most of their roster. Coach Erickson in his post-game speech reminded his players of their potential to become the first team from the North to play in the Subway Bowl final next season but stressed it will take their deepest level of commitment to get that far.
“We know the level we want to get to - the offseason starts tomorrow and we all have to level up, the coaches and the players, everybody,” said Erickson. “If that’s our dream to get into the game at the dome next year, everybody’s got to buy in and do it together.”
The Maroons advance to a quarterfinal playoff against the Langley Saints, the second-ranked Eastern Conference team, Saturday in Langley.
In the other wild-card playoff Saturday at Masich, the Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver defeated the Nechako Valley Vikings of Vanderhoof 20-8. The Dukes will play the top-ranked Vernon Panthers in a quarterfinal Saturday in Vernon.
In a junior varsity playoff Saturday at Masich, the South Kamloops Titans defeated the College Heights Cougars 42-0