The Pemberton Grizzlies community football team is on a roll after two wins in as many weeks, first defeating Howe Sound Secondary School 20-14, then going on to defeat a team from Coquitlam 34-6. This week the team is hoping to keep that momentum going against the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears in Alaska on Saturday, Sept. 21.
According to Grizzlies head coach John Burleson, the Alaskan team found itself with an open week, and extended an invite out to teams in British Columbia to come and fill it. The Crimson Bears are picking up the cost of the Grizzlies' airfare from Seattle and some meals, while the Grizzlies are paying for their own accommodation.
Burleson said the team jumped at the opportunity. "When we started the program a year-and-a-half ago, the one thing we wanted was to get our guys to play in the States because football is their religion, it's very ingrained into the American culture and psyche, and we felt the best way to get the guys acclimated to that was to play south of the border," said Burleson.
The team is now older and more experienced, with players taking part in camps in the U.S. and defeating a few American teams at the AA and AAA level.
Juneau-Douglas will be challenging, said Burleson, but he's confident his small bench — 19 players versus 27 for Juneau-Douglas — is fit and ready for it.
"Juneau is probably the most hostile environement we could drop into," he said. "It's the capital of Alaska with 30,000 people, they have a brand new stadium, they usually get 2,000 to 3,000 people out for games, they fire cannons after every touchdown — it's quite the spectacle.
"With most of our guys going both ways, we're lucky coach (Keith) Herechuk is a conditioning specialist, and we hope to see that pay off in the game. Are we going to be tired? Yes. And there will be moments when the players will wonder what the heck they're doing there, but at the end of the day I know they'll thoroughly enjoy the experience."
In a word, Bruleson said the Grizzlie's style of play was "pressure."
"Our offensive and defensive systems are all designed to put pressure on our opponents," he said. "We do a fair amount of linebacker rushes and we're always looking to put pressure on the qaurterback. On offence, we like to launch it and spread the ball around the field — we don't want individual receivers to be targeted, we want that ball in five or six guys' hands. It's harder for the defence when you do that."
The Grizzlies are an independent high school program that includes players from Pemberton, Whistler and Mt. Currie, in Grades 9 through 12. They played their first season in 2012, facing several teams from the U.S. This year the team is an associate member of the B.C. Community Football Association, and will play against other community teams.
The current roster has 21 kids, many of them playing multiple positions, including some large players — eight of them over 200 pounds. The result is a strong defensive team, which kept Coquitlam to just one touchdown in four quarters, and managed six sacks.
After Alaska, the team is still waiting to confirm its next game. The group will practice and play at least through December, and has plans to attend a tournament in Mexico where they'll represent Canada against teams from Mexico and the U.S. The team will host a fundraiser in October to help cover the costs of the trip. More details to follow.
Saints make it two
The Whistler Saints flag football team won its second straight game of the season, which is already a huge improvement over last season. This time the team beat the North Vancouver Vikings 34-6, with a big defensive performance. Quinn Goertson had four flags and Josh McKenzie and Liam Forsyth each added an interception.
On the offence, Goertson scored first for the Saints, Beynon McKeen added a score and ran back a kickoff, and Josh Mckenzie and Liam Forsyth added two more touchdowns. Logan Anderson kicked two two-point conversions.