The message and checklist remain the same for the New Westminster Hyacks.
The only difference is, unlike a year ago, this year’s senior football team will be tasked with starting the playoffs without a wave of momentum behind them.
With the end of the regular season – culminating with a thrilling 34-28 loss at the hands of visiting Mount Douglas – New West enters the playoffs focusing on tightening the script.
Although they won’t be facing an air-it-out opponent Friday (7:30 p.m. at Mercer Stadium) in the Abbotsford Panthers, the Valley squad brings its share of weapons.
The Hyacks have just one chance at getting this right.
“(Abbotsford) play with heavy formations, they’ve got big linemen and they’re going to try smash mouth and run it at you. (Running back Jalem Catlin) is a good, dangerous player, an athletic kid who can run through tackles and we’ve got to get to him early,” remarked Hyack coach Farhan Lalji.
To do that, it will be vital that the defence shakes those initial blocks quickly and put up a Trumpian wall against Catlin, who led all rushers in the B.C. AAA circuit with a eye-popping 229 yards gained per game.
And while Abbotsford was a middling 3-4 in the Eastern Conference, including last week’s 31-0 loss to No. 1-ranked Lord Tweedsmuir, Lalji’s research has discovered a rival that improved since the two teams locked horns in early September – a 40-6 exhibition win for New West.
“We beat them handily (at Homecoming), but it wasn’t a game that we really felt good about,” he noted. “We took some penalties, we weren’t clean on offence. We struggled against their blitz but we did pop some big plays which our offence can do, but we didn’t play a complete game.”
That’s likely what it will take, although winning by any measure will be what matters at this stage.
Last week’s loss was a highlight reel of big plays and costly gaffes, as New West garnered a solid lead only to see it slip away with the Rams’ late fireworks. The hosts led 21-13 at halftime and 28-19 midway through the final quarter, but fell victim to a rapid-fire rally, with Mount Doug replying with back-to-back touchdowns. They won it on a 12-yard passing play from quarterback Gideone Kremler with a minute left.
“Defensively we couldn’t make a stop when we needed it,” said Lalji. “It was similar to the Notre Dame game in a lot of ways, which is disappointing. If you find a way to win those two games your record looks completely different and you feel a lot better about yourself going into the playoffs.”
The 4-3 Hyacks do have reasons to feel positive entering the playoffs with a shot at defending last year’s B.C. Subway Bowl title.
Quarter-back/linebacker Kinsale Phillip is back, with a full game under his belt after missing the previous three games due to injury. Running back Broxx Comia, in Phillip’s absence, turned on the jets to average more than 140 yards over the past two games, and scoring four touchdowns in that span.
Coupled with the standout season of defensive lineman Evan Nolli, who was named the Western Conference’s Defensive player of the year this week, these elements all add up to reasons for optimism despite dropping three of their last four games.
“Evan is as good a defensive lineman that we’ve ever had, and that’s saying something when we just graduated Isaiah (James) and Yanni (Angelopolous),” said Lalji. “Those guys were good and Evan’s equally as good and extremely versatile.
“He’s going to have a great collegiate career down the road and is an exceptional talent.”
Also receiving conference all-star honours were offensive lineman Daniel Dordevic and Phillip at linebacker.
The team can ill-afford to look past the Panthers, said the coach, nor hang it’s hat on last year’s provincial title. It all comes down to making the tackles, clearing the blocks and scoring more points than the other guy.
“One of the hallmarks of where we were a year ago is we’d always find ways to win those games, right? Those are the lessons and feelings you want to take with you. You don’t want to take those feelings where you kind of feel you’re not going to find a way to make the play because you didn’t last time,” said Lalji.