A valiant season came to a close for the Terry Fox Ravens senior varsity football team — but no provincial banner.
The Port Coquitlam secondary school lost to the division-freshmen G.W. Graham Grizzlies by a score of 36-33 Saturday night (Dec. 4) at BC Place in the 2021 B.C. AAA coastal championship.
Terry Fox finished 8-1 in the 2021 campaign — regular season and playoffs. They defeated the Grizzlies 34-0 six weeks earlier on Oct. 22.
"High school football is tough and it's cliché a little bit, but when you beat a team once in the season, they're going to have a little bit of motivation to come back and win the second time," said head coach Tom Kudaba in an interview with the Tri-City News post-game.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game, I knew it was going to be close."
All in all, Kudaba gave his team's 2021 season an 'A' grade for their resiliency, skills, passion and teamwork — even in the coastal Subway Bowl.
"I've been on both sides and I just tell them it's just the way it is," he said when asked about addressing the team after losing in the final.
"It's that it's a metaphor for life, you know, you're going to have some good times and also some bad times."
Kudaba is already looking ahead to next year as more than half of the Ravens' squad is set to return with some Grade 10s also making the jump to senior varsity as well.
After flying high in the semis, the Ravens put everything they had into the championship clash.
However, on the first drive of the contest, Grade 12 running back Gavin Whittingham suffered a shoulder injury and was kept off the field for the rest of the night.
"Some of the guys we counted on all year didn't perform like they should've in the first half and then we made some changes and that really helped. But, the biggest problem was losing Gavin Whittingham early in the game on his first carry," said Kudaba.
Alexander Gagnon was the player who stepped in Whittingham's place and played admirably on offense.
The Grade 12 two-way athlete even scored the touchdown that pulled Terry Fox to within three points late in the fourth quarter.
TOUCHDOWN!!!@TFSAthletics’ Alexander Gagnon runs through a brick wall for the score to keep the Ravens in contention!— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) December 5, 2021
Extra point is good & are down 36-33 with less than 10min to play | #PortCoquitlam @BCHSFB @TriCityNews pic.twitter.com/1e1QerevWs
"I think we definitely just jelled together nicely, and we were able to form as one," Gagnon explained to the Tri-City News after the loss about how his team laid it all out on the field from start to finish.
"I think teamwork has definitely been a big part of it."
He was named the 2021 AAA eastern conference defensive MVP for his regular-season skills and numbers.
Gagnon added everything was business as usual and the hype was there leading to the championship, but realizing he just played his last high school football game was a hard pill to swallow.
"We started to get fired up, have things run smoothly. We definitely gave it all we had, [but] came out a bit slow. Losing my good friend Gavin Whittingham early, that [really] hurt the team. That's pretty much all I can say really."
Receiver Isaiah Cooper got Terry Fox first on the board early in the first frame with an incredible catch from quarterback Owen Sieben at the goal line before leaning into the end zone.
The gave up a Grizzly touchdown shortly after before running back Xyon Fleary spun off several defenders to put the Ravens back in front 13-8.
Junior varsity call-up Sebastian Cuesta converted two field goals — in the second and fourth quarters —to keep Terry Fox in contention throughout the night.
G.W. Graham scored another touchdown to pull ahead 23-16 by halftime.
The Grizzlies — who levelled up to AAA football this past off-season from AA — then completed a near-four-minute drive and a 51-yard catch-and-run play to take a two-possession lead, 30-16.
After pulling back for a catch, Ravens receiver Mathieu Gale spun to his right, lunged forward and turned on the jets to get Terry Fox back within seven on a 56-yard play.
After the second Cuesta field goal, the scoreboard turned 36-26 back in favour of the Grizzlies nearly two-and-a-half minutes later.
Gagnon's TD briefly restored the Ravens' hopes of a perfect season.
However, G.W. Graham was able to hang on to the ball and run the clock down to zero and claim their first AAA title.
Gagnon's running game earned him the award for best offensive player of the final.
Terry Fox only played two playoff games this year.
The school's quarterfinal match against Kelowna Secondary (KSS) was cancelled as a result of the B.C. floods and mudslides that damaged roads to and from the interior.
This earned the Ravens an automatic bye to the semis last Saturday (Nov. 27) at BC Place.
The KSS Owls prevailed 21-20 over Vernon Secondary in the hybrid AA/AAA north-interior championship on Friday (Dec. 3).
The Terry Fox Ravens' AAA varsity graduating seniors are as follows (in alphabetical order):
- Julian Clarke = Receiver/Defensive back
- Isaiah Cooper = Receiver/Linebacker
- Wrooc Couldrey = Receiver/Defensive back
- Mackenzie Dalziel = Receiver/Defensive back
- Alexander Gagnon = Running back/Linebacker
- Mathieu Gale = Receiver/Defensive back
- Max Hanson = Offensive lineman/Defensive tackle
- Kali McCready = Receiver/Defensive back
- Robin Rothwell = Receiver/Defensive back
- Juan Valle-Desjarlais = Offensive lineman/Defensive lineman
- Thomas Wiggins = Offensive lineman/Linebacker
- Bazen Zelelew = Receiver/Defensive back