Several seniors made an impact in their final games with the Pemberton Grizzlies, helping the team to a 34-0 romp over the Burnaby Central Wildcats on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Pemberton Meadows Field.
With the victory, the Grizzlies completed their season with a 3-3 record and remained undefeated at home.
"We finally got four quarters of solid football out of the team," said head coach John Burleson. "They were perfect today, gave 100 per cent effort and we were very pleased.
"Without question, this was definitely our most complete game of the season. We functioned on all cylinders."
Though the Pemberton offence was effective, with quarterback Kex Nelson throwing for two touchdowns, defence and special teams did most of the scoring for the Grizzlies.
Mitch McCullough was on the end of one passing touchdown and also took a fumble recovery to the end zone in the first half to help the home side to a 20-0 lead at half. Eldon Finck returned a fumble for a touchdown of his own, while a second-quarter safety added to the Pemberton total.
Dustin Lander scored his team-leading 11th touchdown in the third quarter when he blocked a Wildcats punt and recovered it over the goal line. Nelson then connected with Reese Uggeri on an eight-yard strike late in the game to put a cap on the win.
The Burnaby Central squad held its own in one of the team's first games as a program, but the Grizzlies were physically punishing and made few mistakes for the Wildcats to capitalize on.
"The other team is pretty much right where we were last year," said Lander, thinking back to how the Grizzlies had to swallow a couple of tough losses in their inaugural season. "They put up a good fight, but we dominated."
Linebacker Zach Moxley said the team was pleased to be able to walk away with a .500 record on the year while keeping Pemberton's perfect home record intact.
"I think for most seniors it meant a lot," said Moxley, one of several players who won't return to the Grizzlies next year. "The younger guys played really well and gave it their all and that really helped us take the victory."
Lander, McCullough, Moxley, Finck, Eduardo Hudson and Aaron Ryan are among the graduating players who suited up for the last time on Saturday. Burleson thanked them for their time as Grizzlies while delivering an emotional post-game speech to the team.
"I have so much respect for these kids that came out who had never played the game but went out and faced talent every week that was extremely superior to them," Burleson said later. "Words cannot express how proud I am of them. We have a very colourful group of seniors and it's going to be a loss for us next year.
"I've known some of these kids since they were nine years old, and to see where they're from to where they are today — yeah, this is a bit of an emotional day."
Lander said it didn't start to sink in until halftime that he was playing his final game as a Grizzly.
"It set in really hard that this could be the last time I put on pads," said Lander, who plans to look for opportunities to keep playing elsewhere next season.
"It's been great. It's been an awesome time."
For the Grizzlies to win half their games in just their second season is an impressive achievement, and Burleson was proud to see his troops snap a frustrating three-game skid on Saturday.
"The last two weeks we let a couple slip away that we definitely should have won," he said. "But it's not how you start, it's how you finish. We challenged the guys this week: 'How do you want to be remembered?'
"I think this is going to be huge for them in the offseason, knowing that they went out as winners."