After dodging some bullets on their way to an unbeaten regular season, B.C. High School Football’s provincial playoffs proved to be a different story for the South Delta Sun Devils.
The Western AAA Conference champions and the province’s top ranked team was promptly bounced from contention after a 28-15 quarter-final loss to the Notre Dame Jugglers on Saturday night at B.C. Place Stadium.
On their way to a 7-0-0 conference record, the Sun Devils faced their share of adversity, including a 48-40 win over Notre Dame back in early October. This time too many self-inflicted wounds in the early going and their opponent’s surprise passing attack proved to be their undoing.
South Delta coughed up the ball four times in the opening half, including three fumbles, to fall in a 14-0 hole. When the offence finally gained traction with a pair of second half scores, the defence had all kinds of trouble slowing down the Jugglers surprising balanced playbook.
Two of the Sun Devils’ first half turnovers came inside the Notre Dame 20-yard-line.
“We lost the turnover battle which was a big one. It stopped our momentum early,” sighed Sun Devil head coach Ray Moon in a post-game interview. “Our defence was keeping us in it for most of the first half then they started breaking plays.
“We knew they were an off-tackle team. Our game plan was to force them go to the air and unfortunately they were able to have some success.”
The Jugglers’ coaching staff paid close attention to South Delta’s last game — a 28-0 win over the New West Hyacks. They saw a defence that sold out to stop the run and the Hyacks couldn’t execute their passing game to take advantage of it.
Notre Dame wouldn’t have the same problem, however. Quarterback Carmelo Renzullo connected on some deep balls and that was complimented by the inside running of Vincenzo Nardulli.
“When they played New West a couple weeks ago they had nine guys up within five yards of the line scrimmage,” said Jugglers head coach Denis Kelly. “We just took advantage of the space once we saw their guys keying on Nardulli.”
No Juggler scoring drive was bigger than their opening possession of the second half. They methodically moved the ball down field, eating seven minutes off the clock. The key play was a third and 12 completion to Matthew Battad down to the two-yard-line. Nardulli scored on the next play.
“I told the kids at halftime it was not over and I thought the team that would score first in the third quarter would win,” added Kelly. "We grinded that drive out and also hit a couple of slants. When you are running the clock like that it’s disheartening to the other team not to have the ball. That’s football.”
The Sun Devils finally got on the board on a pass from Hunter Norman to Damon Badenhorst from five-yards out to make it 21-8 in the late stages of the third quarter. However, the Jugglers answered just two plays later on a 40-yard touchdown run by Nardulli after a big kick-off return.
Badenhorst hauled in another touchdown pass in the fourth from Norman who was terrific filling in for injured MVP Ben McDonald.
The Sun Devils coaching staff would never admit it but running the table to become provincial champions was a daunting task — especially having to beat a conference opponent for the second time.
“Without a doubt there was a bull’s eye on us and did the bye week actually hurt us?”questioned Moon. “Notre Dame had a good game plan. They knew what they were doing and they came at us.
“We had all the faith in the world with Hunter, just giving him the time to make those (short) passes. We wanted to sustain drives going down the field. It’s hard to do that when you are turning over the ball.”