It came down to fortune, faith and a lot of team work.
The New Westminster Hyacks completed a tremendous year in unlikely, yet fitting, fashion, capturing the B.C. Subway Bowl AAA football title by beating the Terry Fox Ravens 15-14 on the final play of the game Saturday at B.C. Place.
The win included a Hail Mary pass, an unlikely target and a gutsy call – as well as some controversy. When Lucas Sabau carried in a two-point convert to cap the game and the comeback, New West had achieved a program first.
What more would you expect of a team whose name in Chinook means ‘hurry-up’?
“Look, this group is a group of winners,” a proud New West head coach Farhan Lalji said of his team. “They’re a group that wants it badly and a group that just wasn’t going to stop playing. ... We were fortunate. There was a lot of good fortune that happened here. Fox played a very, very good football game defensively.”
Sabau’s game-clinching two-point convert came after New West quarterback Kinsale Philip had extended a desperation drive with three straight pass completions, including a fourth-and-nine pitch to Matthew Lalim with 10 seconds left that got it to midfield. He then connected with Sebastien Reid on a 33-yard hail mary on what appeared to be the final play of the game that left the team 17-yards short of a TD.
Terry Fox ran onto the field to celebrate, but the officials pointed them back, putting a solitary second onto the clock.
It gave Philip the opportunity to pin a 16-yard pass in the end zone to Severio Asaba, who made his first and only reception as a member of the senior varsity team. That made it 14-13, and set the table for Lalji’s biggest gambit – although the team had a great track record of converting two-point plays during the regular season.
Forgoing the single kicked convert option to force overtime, the team lined up for the two-point convert, and Sabau carried it in for the win. Cue pandemonium.
For Philip, the last drive was all about finishing a job the squad began at the start of the season, as well as an opportunity to erase what he admits was a rough day from the pocket.
“That last point, that last drive – that’s all heart. That’s Hyack football,” said a jubilant Philip. “That’s what we’re all about. We’re all here with tears in our eyes because we love each other. ... This is our family.
“I wanted to make it up to my teammates. Those (two) interceptions were not like me; those decisions were not like me. Everything came together in the end.”
The Ravens built a 14-0 lead in the first half and stifled New West’s running game. Cade Cote gave the underdog PoCo squad the lead 32 seconds into the second quarter off an 89-yard dash.
Jaden Severy cued the other TD before halftime, intercepting Philip’s pass attempt and bringing it to the Hyacks 40-yard line. It took six plays before Cote pushed it across on a one-yard push.
New West finally got on the scoreboard with 3:01 left in the third quarter, when Philip carried it in from one-yard after Reid had scampered it 38 yards to a first-and-goal situation.
Still, New West appeared to have misplaced its momentum when Sammy Sidhu was stripped of the ball 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
After Fox missed on a 22-yard field goal attempt with 2:55 remaining, the Hyacks had one last shot to turn the story around. They did it, but not without a lot of drama, and from Terry Fox’s side, controversy.
The Ravens coaches said Asaba didn’t have control of the ball when he came down in the end zone, but both officials covering the line threw their hands up to signal a touchdown.
“Certainly, we felt we were in position to win the game and it comes down to the very last play of the game with no time on the clock,” remarked Fox co-coach Tom Kudaba. “You get a call against you and so be it. What do you do? It’s a tough one. I’m happy for (New West), someone has to win and lose, but to lose like that is a tough one for our kids, that’s for sure.”
The Hyacks, meanwhile could celebrate a victory that erased the past disappointment from semifinal losses the past two years.
“The surprise (on the last touchdown) was because Kinsale is so married to Sebastien, even when every read tells him to throw elsewhere he’ll throw it to (Reid),” noted Lalji.
“For him to throw it to (Asaba) at that moment was unbelievable. Sev is just a competitive kid, he’s such a gamer. ... He hasn’t caught a pass ever in his varsity career.”
Like many of the Grade 12 Hyacks, this championship was a progression they had been working toward since the program won the 2015 junior title. Last year’s semifinal loss was a huge disappointment, but it’s all good now.
“It’s so unbelievable right now, I can’t believe we won,” remarked lineman Isaiah James. “It’s the craziest feeling in the entire world -- I can’t thank my (football) brothers enough, and my coaches.
“We really fought back, we really bought into this program and you can see what happens.”
Lalji, who resurrected the New West football program in 2003, fought back tears in recalling just how many people in the community, including a lot of alumni, have reached out to cheer on the team’s recent run, which capped an 11-1 record, where until Saturday they rarely trailed.
“Fox are well coached. It’s hard to stop our offence because we have so many weapons. (But) sometimes you just have to fight and scrap and not really care what it looks like but just find a way to win.”