A little halftime screaming from the coach and soul-searching from the players was enough to push the Carson Graham Eagles senior football team to a stirring late-game comeback Saturday to win the 26th annual Buchanan Bowl over the Handsworth Royals.
The game opened with a rushing touchdown by Handsworth's Chris Moon, a blocked punt by Handsworth and a touchdown catch by Handsworth's Dylan Weyell to give the Royals a quick 12-0 lead in front of a colourful and boisterous crowd at Carson's Confederation Field. By the time Handsworth quarterback Michael Lemoine scrambled in for a score it was 19-0 and the Royals were rolling.
Meanwhile, Carson Graham coach John Buchanan was fuming.
"We just weren't hitting," Buchanan said after the game, summing up his team's first half performance. "We're a little bit bigger than they are and we thought that we should be able to control the line of scrimmage but our offensive and defensive lines in the first half were getting beat up by the Handsworth kids. . . . And Handsworth came out very strong. They did a great job."
The Buchanan Bowl is named after coach John's late father - James Buchanan worked at both Carson and Handsworth and was a big supporter of high school sports on the North Shore - and at halftime of this year's game John Buchanan let his team know that he didn't like the effort he was seeing from the Eagles.
"It's not a speech that I can recall having to give before, particularly in (the Buchanan Bowl), but it was pretty harsh and in their face and really questioning whether or not they wanted to continue doing what they were doing," said Buchanan. "I talked about the amount of time that everybody's put in, them as players and us as coaches. To get that kind of effort in the first half was just disheartening."
The Eagles, at least on defence, responded immediately.
"Our defence started flying around, started making some hits, which got everybody going," said Buchanan. "That was kind of the catalyst to get things going in a positive way for us because we really had nothing positive in the first half."
Late in the third quarter the Eagles finally took flight on offence as well with quarterback Mo Mohseni finding star wide receiver Brayden Lenius on a post route for a 47-yard touchdown. That same duo hooked up again at the start of the fourth quarter with Mohseni scrambling to find a little space before hitting Lenius, a near sack that turned into a 60-yard score. Mohseni's scramble let Buchanan know that his team was now all in it.
"There was a linebacker who was just boring down on him, full head of steam, and he stood in there and threw the ball and delivered a perfect pass to Brayden."
Another defensive stop gave the Eagles the ball back trailing 19-14 and they moved the chains again, setting up Mohseni and Lenius to combine one more time, their third touchdown play of the day - a seven-yard toss into the back of the endzone leading to a diving catch - capped off with a two-point convert from running back Cody Mastin-Pitman to put Carson ahead 22-19 with less than four minutes left in the game.
Handsworth made one final push, driving to the Carson Graham 40-yard line, but a Lemoine pass was picked off by Carson linebacker Jeremy Sinclair to seal the win.
Lenius finished the game with four catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns. The Grade 11 receiver, listed at six-foot-five and 190 pounds,
has the potential to develop into one of the best receivers the province has ever produced, said Buchanan.
"He's got off-the-chart talent. He's got the potential to be a Division 1 player. Having had a few kids that have gone down there, I know what I'm talking about with that. He does have that skill set. He's tall, he's fast, he's got fantastic hands. He's working on his blocking, which is really important."
Mastin-Pitman did a lot of the heavy lifting for the Eagles, racking up 149 yards on 22 rushes.
"He was just a workhorse for us carrying the ball," said Buchanan. "In the first half he was doing it all on his own because he wasn't getting any blocking. He was carrying kids and knocking kids down and getting five yards when he should have been getting tackled for losses. He just kept pounding away."
Mastin-Pitman also wreaked havoc on the defence as a linebacker, earning player of the game honours for his two-way play.
The Buchanan Bowl has always been a hotly contested game due to the friendly neighbourhood rivalry involved but this year had the added layer of playoff positioning. Carson Graham dropped down from AAA to AA this year, joining North Shore schools Handsworth, Argyle and Windsor in the AA Western Conference. That made this Buchanan Bowl not just about pride but also about points. A loss would have made Carson 0-2 in regular season play. With their stirring comeback they now sit at 1-1 while Handsworth is 0-1.
"(The Buchanan Bowl) was always an important game whether we were playing AAA or AA, whether it was a league game or an exhibition game it was always an important and exciting game," said Buchanan. "But having it as a league game, it definitely adds to it."
Both the Eagles and Royals will keep it local this weekend as Carson will host the Windsor Dukes (0-2 league, 1-3 overall) Friday at 3: 45 p.m. while Handsworth will host the Argyle Pipers (0-2, 0-3), also on Friday at 3: 45 p.m.
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The Buchanan Bowl also pitted the Handsworth and Carson junior teams against each other with the Eagles winning another classic contest 40-30. Carson's Lucas Bill scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter - his second and third scores of the game following an earlier TD catch - to erase a 30-28 deficit and give Eagles the win.