Knights fall to Irish in provincial semi
One by one the St. Thomas More Knights slowly shuffled out of the dressing room their heads hanging low and into the consoling arms of family and friends.
Their hopes for a provincial football title had come to a dramatic and sudden end at the hands of a familiar foe, their Catholic school rivals from Vancouver College.
The Fighting Irish stuffed Knights running back Elliott Nelson at the goalline in the dying seconds to deny STM a tying two-point convert and a spot in the B.C. AAA varsity football final with a 42-40 victory in an epic battle.
Four years ago, the same groups met in the provincial Grade 8 final and Vancouver College prevailed. Two years ago, the Irish eliminated the Knights in a provincial junior varsity semifinal. Earlier this season, College won 17-7. Saturday's encounter was the last chance at redemption, and it was the cruelest of all.
"It was a game of inches and we didn't get the last couple of inches," said a subdued Nelson.
Dejected receiver Giovanni Trasolini had difficulty dealing with the Irish delivering yet another body blow to the group.
"It was probably the hardest thing in playing five years of football at STM," said Trasolini. "They're well coached and they came out and wanted it more than we did. It might have been nerves a little bit."
Trasolini was referring to STM's slow start in the first half. After some tentative feeling out, College quarterback Hunter Robinson hit six-foot-five receiver Rashaun Simonise for a 26-yard touchdown with less than two minutes left in the first quarter. Four minutes later they had doubled the advantage on a four-yard run by running back Liam Mahara, who found gaping holes in the STM defence all game.
The Knights finally got untracked when Jalen Jana scored on a 25-yard run with 2:23 left in the first half. But whatever momentum that could have, or should have, created evaporated. To be more specific, it was Simonised. On the ensuing kickoff, Simonise found a big hole and ran it back to STM's 25-yard line. He then caught an 18-yard TD toss from Robinson with 36 seconds left for a 21-7 halftime lead.
"You dig yourself a hole against a good football team it's going to be tough," said STM head coach Bernie Kully. "Defensively we played one of our poorest games, especially from a tackling perspective."
In the second half, the Knights got going, but almost every time they scored, so did the Irish. First, STM quarterback Chase Malcolm pumped faked a pass and then took off for a 30-yard touchdown romp. That lasted less than four minutes as Irish fullback Keegan Yank restored the two-touchdown lead with a 22-yard TD run.
Back came STM with Nelson scoring from five yards out. The Knights then recovered an onside kick and tied the game 28-28 after three quarters on a one-yard plunge by Nelson.
They tried another onside kick, their third consecutive, but this time the Irish recovered and Simonise when on to collect his third TD reception, this time from 25 yards. With 2:30 left, Jana scored on a three-yard run. But this time, in what may have been the deciding play of the game, kicker Tommy Tassone missed the extra point because of a high snap to trail 35-34.
Vancouver College appeared to have put the game away with 44 seconds remaining when Mahara blew by the Knights for a 67-yard touchdown and a 42-34 lead. But STM didn't give up. Malcolm led them down the field and then hit Malcolm Lee, who he has played together with for eight years, in the back of the end zone for a spectacular 34-yard catch with four seconds left.
On the two-point convert attempt, they handed the ball off to Nelson but he couldn't push it across. The Irish had finally vanquished the Knights one last time.
"That's the way it goes sometimes," said Elliott. "I don't know how we got off to a slow start. We played a hell of a second half. That's the way it goes I guess."
Malcolm could only shake his head at the outcome and another notorious slow start.
"Two years ago we had the same problem. We lost to VC in the semifinal. We used that as our motivation. That made us mad and we knew we could make that happen this year," said Malcolm. "We were a second half team the whole year. That's what's special about us. That makes us a championship team. Even though we fell short, we're a championship team."
Malcolm is looking forward to next year pointing out STM had two Grade 11s make the provincial all-star team in Jana and Lee. He neglected to mention he was also named Grade 11 player of the year, but he did point out they won the provincial AAA junior varsity title last year.
"I think we're going to do it," said Malcolm.
• The Irish will meet Victoria's Mt. Douglas Rams in next Saturday's provincial final at BC Place. In the other semifinal, the Rams dismantled Abbotsford's W.J. Mouat Hawks 41-15.
• STM's junior varsity team, however, will be making an appearance at BC Place after disposing of their Irish rivals. They will take on Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens in the AAA JV final starting at 12:30 p.m. The Knights got there by downing Vancouver College 27-8 at Burnaby Lake West last Thursday.