The Carson Graham football program is going to have one heck of a busy day this Saturday.
That, however, is exactly what they were hoping for when the season started back in the summer. Both the Carson Graham senior and junior Eagles scored playoff semifinal victories over the past week, and both will hit the field at BC Place this Saturday to battle for provincial championships. The juniors will face Nanaimo's John Barsby Secondary at 9 a.m., while the seniors will hit the field seven hours later for the AA final against Abbotsford's Robert Bateman. It’ll be back and forth on the bus to BC Place all day for the Carson crew, a couple of caravans that they are hoping will yield a double load of gold.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Brian Brady, the head coach of both teams, adding that they’ve had the seniors and the juniors practising together all year, the first time they’ve done that in his tenure as a coach. “It doesn’t feel like two separate teams. … The players committed to the process, committed to the program and getting better, which is really neat to see. They’re genuinely excited for each other’s accomplishments, which is the foundation of a team – caring for each other. It’s so cool to see, because we talk about being a close-knit group, we talk about family, and they’re really buying into that.”
The seniors booked their ticket to the final with a thrilling 24-22 win over Langley Secondary on Saturday at BC Place. It was a bit of a stunning result, considering that same Langley team hammered Carson Graham 50-6 back in September. That loss, however, helped push the senior Eagles to get better, said Brady.
“That was an eye-opener for us, we kind of got shocked in that game,” he said. “That game led to us asking some real questions, and knowing what we needed to work towards to get better as a team. “We were happy to get another shot at it, and then it's just a measuring stick to see how far we've come as a program.”
Logan Mellish, recently named the AA provincial all-star quarterback, led the way with four touchdown passes, three of them to star receiver Aidan Nemeth. Mellish finished 20-33 for 370 yards passing, while Nemeth had 11 catches for 205 yards.
Malek Gul caught the other TD pass, and finished the day with 106 receiving yards. Gul teamed with the Nemeth brothers – Grade 12 Aidan and Grade 10 Fin – as well as Griffin Withers to form a potent receiving corp. On defence, Charlie Huntingford had a monster game with eight tackles, two sacks and an interception, while Vytor Oliveira also registered 11 tackles, and Aleks Wallace recorded tackles and a sack. Max Millar and Daniel Tshibang also helped lead a strong defensive effort for the Eagles, said Brady.
“It was a really good team win,” he said. “I’m really proud of them for believing in themselves and getting one step closer to reaching our potential.”
In the junior ranks, the Eagles also pulled some stunning reversals, defeating a pair of teams in their playoff run after losing to them in the regular season. The junior Eagles defeated Holy Cross in the quarterfinals and West Vancouver in the semis, avenging losses to both teams earlier in the year. They’ll need to do it once more as they face Barsby in the final, a team that topped the junior Eagles 54-0 in regular season action, Oct. 20.
“We have a tangible standard for our growth as a team, which is really neat,” Brady said about the junior team’s late-season turnaround, adding that this was the first season of contact football for many of the junior players, a situation that was exacerbated by the cancellation of the entire 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. “It's sort of a steep learning curve, and they've been able to show good growth just by buying into themselves and the team, and getting better as the season progressed.”
With the success that both programs had this season, the junior and senior Eagles will likely be practising side by side for many years to come, said Brady.
“I don’t think we have another choice,” he said with a laugh. “It's a testament to our volunteers, our coaches, putting in the work and building relationships, and the players; we are experiencing the strongest retention rate we've ever had. … It's formed a pretty strong community of togetherness, which is really neat.”