For the first time in school history, Earl Marriott Secondary will have a football championship banner hanging in the gym.
On Friday night in Burnaby, the Mariners’ senior team staged a dramatic comeback in the rain and the wind to steal a victory from the Eric Hamber Griffins, winning the AA Tier 2 championship game 7-6.
“I’m excited, but exhausted,” said EMS coach Michael Mackay-Dunn, who has been at the head of the football program since its inception in 2004.
“It was just an incredible game. I’ve been around this sport for awhile now, and this ranks right up there as one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.”
The game was a turnover-filled, defensive struggle for both sides, with the Griffins – who started the drive deep in EMS territory – scoring on their first possession, but failing to convert the extra point.
The score remained 6-0 through the rest of the first half and into the second, with each team threatening to score at various points, but never actually punching the ball across the goal line.
Mackay-Dunn credited his defence – the linebackers and defensive ends, especially – for its ability to stall Eric Hamber’s offence by creating turnovers.
“Blocked punts, interceptions, fumbles… we had seven (turnovers), at least. I can’t even remember exactly how many we had,” the coach said.
The defence’s best work came late in the fourth quarter, with the Griffins up six points and threatening to add more.
Three times in the final five minutes, EMS defenders created turnovers – the most crucial coming when the Griffins fumbled the ball on the Mariners’ one-yard line.
“Our defence, they just throttled them,” said Mackay-Dunn.
After stopping the Griffins numerous times, the Mariners finally got on the board with 50 seconds remaining when quarterback Chris Ridley, on a quarterback scramble, rolled to the right before reversing field and diving into the end zone.
“He dove into the end zone almost backwards. It was an incredible play – only a real athlete can make a play like that,” Mackay-Dunn said.
Anvir Grewal kicked the extra point to give the Mariners the victory – but even that conversion didn’t come without raising the stress level of the coach.
The team’s long-snapper for extra points and field goals, Jaden Sanderson, had not played in weeks due to injury, but Mackay-Dunn told him to dress for the game anyway, in case they needed him.
The game-winning extra point was the only play Sanderson played the entire game.
“I don’t know why I told him to dress for the game, to be honest, but I look pretty smart now I guess,” laughed Mackay-Dunn.
Mackay-Dunn was quick to rattle off a laundry list of names when trying to identify players who were key to the victory Friday – Ridley, Nash Kinna, Nathan Brown, Sanderson, as well as cornerback Daniel Demron and Austin Golphetto, the latter two finishing the game despite suffering serious elbow injuries.
“We were just so resilient. The boys never quit,” Mackay-Dunn said. “If the game had ended 6-0, we still would’ve been extremely proud of how they played.”