The off-field circumstances surrounding the Buchanan Bowl played today were likely the strangest in the 34-year history of the event, but the game itself was as good as ever as the Carson Graham Eagles and Handsworth Royals played a high-scoring, hard-hitting contest.
In the end, the Eagles broke open a 22-22 halftime tie with a dominant second half, pulling away to score a 46-28 win.
While the players were laying it on the line on the field, a strange scene unfolded off it. This year’s game was moved from the traditional Saturday afternoon slot to Friday morning at 10 a.m., officially to allow for more student involvement (and unofficially, reportedly, to quell unruly student behaviour). In the days leading up to the game, however, students and fans were instructed not to come to the game at all, with the North Vancouver School District saying it wanted to limit contact between students in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Traditionally, the Buchanan Bowl brings out raucous student support with a big blue section shouting for the Royals and a rival red section pulling for the Eagles. This year, the stands were sparsely populated with a few parents and fans, while students were not allowed in the bleachers at all and were left to lurk nearby in the school parking lot or in the trees behind the field.
Those who managed to watch the game live or who logged in online for the livestream were treated to a dynamite first half with the teams trading scores.
Handsworth jumped out to an early lead with quarterback Preston Forgie finding receiver Emmett Olthuis for a score, but the Eagles raced back with three straight scores. Starting quarterback Tanner McClure hit Ashton Fink for a 50-yard touchdown to get Carson on the board. The Eagles then quickly recovered a fumble and were right back in the end zone, with McClure hitting Aidan Nemeth for a 35-yard TD.
The Eagles lost McClure to injury in the first quarter – after he’d quickly racked up 105 passing yards with two touchdowns on four completions in seven attempts – but the offence didn’t slow down as backup Logan Mellish came in and threw a lovely strike to Nemeth for a 45-yard TD to give the Eagles a 22-7 lead.
Handsworth answered back, though, with Olthuis snagging his second TD of the day from Forgie. The dynamic duo then connected on another long bomb deep into Carson territory to set up Forgie for a scamper into the end zone to tie it 22-22 at the half.
In the second half, the field tilted in Carson Graham’s direction, with the Royals committing some costly turnovers and the Eagles controlling long stretches of play on offence. Carson went to work on the ground, setting up Mellish for short touchdown passes of 10 yards to Kasra Tabatabaei and three yards to Ryan Corda.
Carson’s scoring was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from Daniel Tshibang late in the fourth quarter.
The Royals kept fighting to the end, with Forgie connecting with Max Cameron for a 51-yard touchdown bomb in the final minute of play. That was the end of the scoring though, as Carson collected the ensuing kickoff and then knelt down on the next play to kill the clock on a Buchanan Bowl victory.
Carson Graham head coach Brian Brady was unavailable for comment immediately after the game as he was busy prepping the school’s junior team for their Buchanan Bowl tilt against the Royals. There was much to praise from the senior Eagles though.
Mellish was named player of the game for Carson, completing seven of 14 passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns while adding 102 rushing yards.
Fink racked up 71 rushing yards along with his 50-yard TD catch, while Nemeth collected 87 receiving yards and two TDs.
Tshibang led the way on defence with seven tackles while Tabatabaei registered two tackles and a sack.
For Handsworth Noah Brinham earned player of the game honours, racking up 153 on 23 carries. Olthuis finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns on three catches, while Forgie threw for 120 yards with three touchdowns, while adding another score on the ground.
“it was a back-and-forth game, it was a fun game – the kids were right into it,” said Handsworth head coach Darren Benning. “We’ve had two years off and it was sloppy – the game really came down to a couple of mistakes. … We turned the ball over twice in our own end at the start of the second half and that cost us the game.”
Costly turnovers aside, Benning said it was great to see the kids back on the field for a Buchanan Bowl after the entire 2020 season was wiped out by COVID-19.
“I love it, its great. We’re really excited for the kids to be here on the field, and they love it too.”
The fans, however, were missed, said Benning.
“The administration decided not to have fans – that was their decision so there's nothing I can do about that. As a coach, I just control what I can control. And that's, you know, getting my team ready to play.”