The Carson Eagles senior football team used their big blockers and deep bench to grind down the Handsworth Royals in the Buchanan Bowl, owning the second half en route to a 31-14 win in the annual classic played Saturday at Carson's Confederation Field.
The Eagles outscored the Royals 24-0 in the final 24 minutes, erasing a halftime deficit to earn a comeback win for the second year in a row. Considering that the game is named after his father James, Carson Graham head coach John Buchanan was pretty pleased to chisel his team's name onto the trophy once again.
"It's always a good win, I love it," he said. "It's the best feeling when you win them and it's a horrible feeling when you lose it, so it was really nice to get that win."
In the first half it looked as if it was going to be Handsworth's day as quarterback Michael Lemoine - a Grade 12 in his third year as a starter - methodically marched his Royals up and down the field.
"They just controlled the ball so much," said Buchanan. "I don't know what the time of possession was in the first half but we didn't have the ball much."
For all their yards, however, the Royals couldn't break through for a score for much of the half. Their efforts were finally rewarded with a little more than three minutes left in the second quarter when a 70-yard drive that featured a lot of hard yards from running back Alex Moon - a powerful Grade 12 dynamo who plays much bigger than his five-footsix frame - was capped off by a six-yard run by Eli Matsell.
It took just one play, however, for the Eagles to erase the deficit as running back A.J. Blackwell took the very next snap 54-yards to the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns on the day.
"That was a pretty crucial score for us and it was nice - really good blocking by the line and the receivers and A.J. just sees the field so well, he ran where he needed to and used his speed to get in the end zone," said Buchanan, adding that the Grade 12 back was injured early last season and is finally getting back into game shape. "I haven't seen him play since this time last year.
He's really worked on his strength and speed and it shows. He's got a real nice burst and he sees the field very well."
Blackwell ended the day with 16 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Handsworth capped off the offensive explosion in the dying minutes of the first half with receiver Dylan Weyell out-jumping the defence on a fade route in the back of the end zone to haul in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Lemoine.
Handsworth's lead was short-lived again though as Carson quarterback Mo Mohseni threw a pass that speedy receiver Haward Mulindi turned into a 22-yard catch-and-run touchdown early in the third quarter. The play tied the score at 14 and also earned some redemption for Mulindi who had a couple of drops in the first half.
"One was actually a catch that the referees called incomplete and then Haward took a personal unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after that, so that really hurt us," said Buchanan.
With a deeper bench and bigger linemen the Eagles started to wear down the Royals in the second half. Lacking substitutes, Handsworth began losing players to injury, including
lineman Eugene Seet who was taken away in an ambulance (Handsworth head coach Jay Prepchuk reported after the game that Seet is fine).
"I think they just got worn down," Buchanan said of the Royals. "They were getting some injuries and some players going down. I think our depth, we have a little more depth than they do, particularly on the line. We were able to get some substitutions in there where their kids weren't coming off the field.
Fullback Andrew Liu scored a nine-yard touchdown and Blackwell powered in for a shortyardage score to extend the lead to 28-14, with Jeremy
Sinclair kicking a field goal to round out the scoring for the Eagles. Mohseni was named player of the game for Carson Graham after completing 14 of 23 passes for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed the ball eight times for 68 yards.
"I thought he had a very good game - he made a couple of incorrect reads early on but he made the adjustments and he put the ball where it needed to be," said Buchanan, adding that the Grade 12 has become quite a team leader.
"He organized off-season workouts for the kids, they'd come to the school at seven in the morning a couple of times a week starting in January going out on the field and throwing it around. He's been really looking forward to this season and he's put in the work."
Lucas Bill led the Carson receivers with six catches for 48 yards while linebackers Liu and Jeremy Sinclair tallied more than a dozen tackles each on defence with Mulindi and Sam Williams each claiming an interception.
Buchanan also acknowledged Grade 12 centre Lorenzo Alpuerto for his strong work leading the offence.
"He did a really nice job of calling the line plays and recognizing what was going to work for us," he said. "I was really pleased that he's developed into that smart leader that can help us and recognize what we can do to be successful."
For Handsworth, Lemoine completed 16 of 28 passes for 225 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Weyell caught five balls for 47 yards and a touchdown while Damian Starnes had four catches for 89 yards. Moon carried 14 times for 155 yards while Eli Matsell paced the defence with nine tackles followed by Matt Anderson with eight.
The Eagles are in their second year of AA football after dropping down from AAA and Buchanan thinks this team has the potential to make a deep playoff run. They'll have to do it, however, without star receiver Brayden Lenius who moved to California's Chaminade College Preparatory for his Grade 12 year.
"It's a tough loss for us but it's a great opportunity for him," said Buchanan. "He's got the potential to go a long way. He should be playing football on Saturdays and Sundays. He's getting that opportunity because he's down there and put himself in that position so I'm just thrilled for him."
Buchanan was also thrilled with the boisterous turnout for this year's Bowl, a game played in honour of his father James Buchanan who was a longtime teacher and administrator who worked at both schools before his untimely death in 1986. This was Buchanan Bowl 27.
"My mom and both my sisters were at the game and they just loved it," said John Buchanan. "My dad, for everything that he was involved with in education, he loved school spirit. He used to always take us kids to basketball games, whatever was going on, to be a part of that. It was something that he took a lot of pride in, with students having pride in their school. To see that school spirit is just great and to have it associated with dad is just awesome."
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