It takes a Royal City to build a championship

The aftermath following New Westminster Hyacks' provincial victory includes sharing the celebration and credit with program supporters and community

There’s the regular December trip to Maui to look forward to. The warm weather and soothing beach sand will be a great respite and chance to unwind from the lengthy duties and worries of a head coach.

As great as it always is, it won’t be able to top the emotional euphoria experienced last week at B.C. Place.

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But just because his New Westminster Hyacks completed its mission by claiming the 2017 B.C. Subway Bowl football championship last Saturday, beating the Terry Fox Ravens 15-14 on the final play of the game, it doesn’t mean Farhan Lalji is content, in a ‘There’s nothing more to do,’ kind of way.

In fact, the franchise-first B.C. senior AAA title is a sign that the work continues – and work he’s eager to carry on.

“The whole year was interesting,” said Lalji on Wednesday. “It’s a special group of kids who won a lot and who were not satisfied with that. I’m not sure if we played our best football at the end of the season, but we kept going and never gave up.”

As documented earlier (see Hyacks crowned with last second heroics), that ‘never give up’ attitude paid off in a game where they didn’t score until late in the third quarter. Over 11 previous games, the team trailed just a couple of times and their lone loss came against Oregon powerhouse Scapoose in early September. Of course, that was all incidental history when it came to game time last Saturday. Then a different history was set.

They had close games, including a 20-14 win over Van College, but no B.C. team managed to lock-down the Hyack running game in the way Fox did in the final. Yet, New West still found a way and forged through some rough patches to come out victorious.

Certainly, luck played a part. The team went through the season almost unscathed by injury, Lalji noted. When certain players were banged up, the Hyacks depth was able to buy them time to recuperate.

In the final, when it appeared time had run out with the score 14-7 – and New West having achieved a first down at the Fox 17-yard line – it benefited the Hyacks that the Ravens bolted onto the field to celebrate just as the officials were signalling that there was still a second remaining and time for one more play. It gave the New West players a chance to reset and make sure they knew what they were going to do on their final chance – an 18-yard TD pass from quarterback Kinsale Philip to Severio Asaba – to keep the storybook finish going.

Seeing the unflinching joy of his players at the instant the winning two-point convert by Lucas Sabau was scored served as a touchstone moment for the coach, but also a complement to the events that occurred over the past few weeks, months even.

“I’ve always believed we run a championship program, and it wasn’t about winning a championship,” he noted. There are many things which attest to why the coaches and volunteers put in the time, and it always comes down to the kids.

“We could have won by two, three touchdowns and run out the clock, and you would have gotten a celebration at the end. But to go through the battle we had, against a tough opponent like Fox and win it the way we did – we got that (celebration) moment times-10 by how it ended,” said Lalji.

It was brought home for him by all the texts, emails and connections he received from Hyack alumni from all over the place, including the team’s first quarterback Ingram Jaccard, who is in Germany and reached out to send his old coach his best wishes.

His many friends and colleagues in the media relayed the team’s story in tweets and posts. A coworker at TSN, where Lalji works as the network’s West Coast reporter, saw the game-winning play and picked it up for their national sportscast on Monday.

And there were the many people in the community who showed their support. It seemed everywhere you turned, people were talking about and cheering on the Hyacks. To see his players and the program he has poured a lot of energy into get such support was overwhelming.

“For me, the most gratifying part has been the response we’ve gotten from all over New West. It was amazing.

“I told the players, the 15-year history of this club didn’t matter. Just do it for yourselves, for each other.”

He said that the team’s assistant coaches went all-out in preparing the team through the season, while the school provided terrific support. Around the community, people like David Sidoo, Ryan Beedie and Dave Vallee, among others, have stood behind the program from the very start.

“(It) allowed us to provide these kids and this community more than simply a football program.”

A part of every season, win or lose, is that players move forward and graduate. The Hyacks will be losing some huge pieces to the 2017 championship roster, including provincial all-stars Yanni Angelopolous, Isaiah James, Sebastien Reid and Sammy Sidhu. Eleven players in all will leave on a winning note. The team does have a solid foundation in which to go forward, noted Lalji.

“We don’t graduate a big class, the cupboard isn’t bare,” he said. “While we don’t lose a ton of players we lose some very good players.

“I really like our (defensive) line and our secondary (for next year). We’ve got Kinsale and (running back Broxx Comia). (Tackle) Evan Nolli is as good as Yanni and Isaiah, who were all-stars. … We have guys who are ready for bigger roles.”

There is always next year – and that applies when you win, too.

“Little for me has changed. Our program isn’t defined by winning a championship,” said Lalji. “It’s most important that it’s for the kids, and how it connected the program even more with the community.”

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