High School football returns after COVID enforced absence
Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart
September 24, 2021, Victoria, BC – Over 500 fans returned to the storied grounds of Royal Athletic Park in Victoria’s Stadium District on Friday evening to witness the return of high school football, as the Mount Doug Rams defeated the South Delta Sun Devils 34-14 in BC High School AAA Varsity Conference play.
This is the 25th anniversary of Mt. Doug Rams football and Friday’s home opener was extra special, not only for that, but also because it marked the return of football from the COVID induced absence that prevailed in the 2020 season.
Ironically enough, it also marked a return of high school football to Royal Athletic Park, a park that has sat dormant for two years without HarbourCats baseball, or any other major sport in action, both because of COVID and because the Rams, over the last few years, were playing at Westhill’s Stadium (now Starlight Stadium), or in their own field at the school in Gordon Head.
Those in attendance Friday were treated to a very entertaining game, one in which the Rams were challenged early, as the Sun Devils took the opening kickoff and wound their way downfield for the opening score of the game with quarterback Kenny Scott hooking up on an 11-yard passing play to Ben Holmes to put the South Delta Up 7-0.
That would be the only lead the Sun Devils would have in the game however, as Rams quarterback Hunter Swift and running backs Malik Gagne-Smith and Miltiadis Koulelis took things over from there and behind their massive offensive line, ran the Sun Devils into the ground.
Striking first was Gagne-Smith, who completed the Rams first possession of the game, following the Sun Devils opening score, by scampering in on a nice 7-yard end-around run to tie the game 7-7.
After the Sun Devils punted on their next possession, it would be Koulelis’s turn, as he would power into the end zone on a 9-yard run to put the Rams up 14-7.
The Sun Devils would battle though and Scott would lead another drive down to the Rams seven-yard line. Some solid Rams defence and a penalty would push the ball back to the 15-yard line, where the Sun Devils would settle for a field goal attempt.
That was thwarted however, as some pressure up the middle by the Rams towering Sebastian Sibbald and Marino Dujela would force Sun Devils kicker Declan Dunn to push the ball wide left.
The Rams would capitalize on that by once again using their strong running game to head downfield and cap off another scoring drive, this time with Swift calling his own number on a 4-yard run and giving the Rams a 21-7 lead.
The Sun Devils would battle hard though and when Scott snuck the ball into the end zone, the Sun Devils had cut the lead to 21-14 at the half.
Defence would be the story of the game in the second half, as the Rams would mount an initial third quarter drive that appeared to be capped by another Swift touchdown, but a holding penalty brought the ball back. They would regroup to push the ball down to the one, but the Sun Devils defence forced a fumble on the one-yard line and they took over from there.
It was then the Rams turn for a big defensive play, as a Scott pass was tipped at the line and then intercepted by Bryce Reuther deep in Sun Devils territory. That led to another Koulelis score on a 4-yard carry, extending the Rams lead to 27-14 (convert was no good), and giving them a little breathing room.
The Rams defence came up big again on the next Sun Devils possession, forcing and recovering a fumble by South Delta’s Trent Clisby on their own 15-yeard line, with the Rams’ Gagne-Smith diving on the loose ball.
After the Rams scored again on a Koulelis 5-yard run, his third touchdown of the game, to make it 34-14, Gagne-Smith would come up big again on defence, making an incredible leaping grab for an apparent interception, however, it was called back because of off-setting penalties.
The Sun Devils would mount one more charge late in the game and on a fourth down run, Scott barrelled toward the end zone, but was met with a thundering tackle from the Rams Kainin McNay, stopping Scott in his tracks, short of the first down and short of the end zone and keeping the score at 35-14.
After that the Rams would simply run out the clock and secure their first win of the 2021 regular season.
In total the punishing Rams ground game rumbled for 412 yards on the ground behind another stellar performance behind the Mount Douglas Offensive Line. Koulelis led the way for the Rams with 181 yards rushing and 3 TD’s, followed by Gagne-Smith with 139 yards and 1 major, and Swift with 79 yards and 1 touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bronson Pheiffer and Morgan Steves led the team in tackles with 4 each, followed by Jayden Koehler-Scott, Kayden Harris, Malik-Gagne-Smith, TJ Daw, Nelson Way and Marino Dujela 3 tackles each. Marino was outstanding, putting great pressure on the South Delta QB and stuffing the Sun Devil run game.
In other Vancouver Island high school football AAA Varsity play Friday, Island teams did not fare as well as the Rams as the New Westminster Hyacks defeated the Belmont Bulldogs 14-0, while Sardis defeated Nanaimo District Secondary School 59-0.
The Varsity Rams now turn their attention to a talented Seaquam team, with the Rams travelling to the mainland on Saturday October 2.
These and more photos from this game from Christian J. Stewart will eventually be posted at https://christianjstewart.zenfolio.com/p921242686