The Nanaimo Redmen, with a tiny roster and a giant effort, won it all.
The Redmen midget football team captured the Vancouver Mainland Football League championship on Sunday night in Langley, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come back and beat the North Surrey Bears 17-11.
"We played with heart and we played with determination and that's exactly how we won it," said Jake Borserio, Redmen tailback.
The red team took the field Sunday at McLeod Athletic Park facing one of the same challenges it had faced all season long – an undermanned roster. The Bears had 43 players on their sideline; the Redmen had 20.
"We've dealt with it all year," said Ethan Schulz, Redmen linebacker. "Nobody thinks we can win, so we take that personally and we bring it to them. We play harder than any other team that I've ever played on or played against. And we had to."
Nanaimo overcame an awful first half in which it fumbled away the ball three times but managed to go into halftime trailing just 8-3.
"Our bend-don't-break philosophy, that's what it came down to. We were able to get some stops…" said Sean Roden, the team's coach. "We got rid of the penalties and we got rid of the turnovers and we executed and we played great in the second half."
Still, the score stayed the same until the fourth quarter, when the Bears tacked on a field goal to make it 11-3. Just 30 seconds later, though, Redmen quarterback Austin Lyle found Marcus Severe behind coverage for a 71-yard touchdown reception. Borserio dove into the endzone for a two-point convert to make the score 11-11.
"It lifted up all our spirits and we said, we can do this and we're going to do this and we're going to win this game," said Severe.
Schulz forced a fumble with a huge hit, leading to a 10-yard touchdown run from Borserio to give Nanaimo its first lead with two minutes, 21 seconds to go in the game. North Surrey had a couple more chances with the ball, but Jacob Odynsky came up with a fumble recovery on a Bears kick-return play, then a Schulz sack on third-and-long with six seconds left clinched the win.
"I almost broke down in tears. I just couldn't believe we did it," said Schulz, who was chosen as the game's most valuable player. "It was an amazing feeling and I'm still feeling it."
Nanaimo's other points came from Spencer Vos, who kicked a 31-yard field goal in the first half. On defence, Severe had an interception and Lyle and Yalin Yaksul had fumble recoveries. Tyler Gavin was selected most sportsmanlike player.
Schulz said it's hard to measure effort, but said that's what made the Redmen provincial champions.
"It's not all about how many players you have. It's how much dedication you have to this game," Severe said. "If you have more dedication than the other player then you will come out with the win."
Roden said it would take a while for the championship to sink in before he could really reflect on how it happened.
"Heart, to sum up in one word," the coach said. "It's almost unexplainable. It's just determination, desire, and doing what it takes to win."