Sherwood Park - The Bellerose Bulldogs were only seconds away from a trip to the premier women’s final when the Bev Facey Falcons broke their hearts Thursday in high school rugby.
With their backs pinned against the try line while clinging to a two-point lead, the Bulldogs withstood a furious push for points before Facey scored on a penalty play from about the five-metre line on the last play of the game.
“We deserved the win,” a disappointed Meghan Biggar said after the 10-7 decision at Outlaws field. “It was a tough loss but we still had an amazing season.”
The Bulldogs (4-3) surprised everybody, including themselves, in going as far as they did after recording only one victory last year in the quarter-finals against Facey en route to finishing 1-5-1 overall.
“We played with heart all season and we showed that today,” said Alyssa Gagan. “We held them off for the whole game until we let them through [in the last minute].”
The Bulldogs placed third in the six-team standings with three wins and lost to the powerhouse Sturgeon Spirits by only 13 points and second-place Facey by 12.
“It was an amazing season. One of our greatest achievements was when we beat PK,” Biggar said of the first victory in school history against Paul Kane, a come-from-behind 19-10 thriller against the 2008 premier champs in brutal weather conditions. “We also won more games than last year and that was pretty big too. Our team got so much better as the year went on. Everybody worked well together and we just clicked.”
In the semifinal during a scoreless first half, the Bulldogs never crossed the midfield strip in the first quarter. They survived several close calls at their try line as Facey poured on the pressure.
In the second quarter the Bulldogs got going offensively. They spent several minutes in scoring range but lacked finish.
Early in the third quarter, after a long injury timeout by Bellerose, Facey caught the Bulldogs napping with a dash down the right touchline from near the 50-metre line to open the scoring.
“They had a good run and just slipped past us,” Gagan said.
Twelve minutes later the Bulldogs scored off a penalty play outside the five-metre line as Biggar dove across the try line. Quick passes sprung the Grade 11 outside-centre free for the tying score.
“There was an amazing pass by Janna Slevinsky to Dawn Kunz and Dawn handed it off to me. I ran and as I got tackled, I stretched out and touched it down. I knew I had to do that if I was going to make it,” Biggar said. “After we got our try it just pumped the team up.”
With the team’s regular kicker sidelined, Gagan was called upon to convert the try with a difficult boot.
“I was so nervous I didn’t think I could do it. It was quite far out and wide [of the posts] and I needed to have a good kick. When it went right through I’ve never been prouder of myself,” said Gagan, 16, who was mobbed by her teammates after giving Bellerose the lead. “I wanted that to be the winning score but they slipped past us at the end.”
After the first try Facey never threatened offensively until they ramped up the intensity and drove the ball into Bellerose territory with about 10 minutes remaining. The Bulldogs buckled down defensively with some heroic tackles. Their downfall however was a rash of penalties, including some questionable calls by the referee who refused to blow the whistle on numerous high tackles by Facey. The Bulldogs also played the last six minutes short a player after the ref sentenced one of the smallest Bulldogs on the field to the sin-bin following a dustup outside the Bellerose five-metre line.
“It’s tough when you have to stay 10 yards out because of penalties and then advance, but we held tough,” Biggar said.
Credit the Bulldogs for standing their ground against a desperate Facey squad that slowly pushed them back towards the try line. On the game-winning score, Facey barely broke the try line before planting the ball down. The game ended after Facey missed the convert attempt.
“It was hard fought by both sides, a real struggle,” said Biggar, 16, a noted scorer with the Zone 5 junior AA Snipe, the 2009 silver medallists at the Canadian Ringette Championships. “It was hard losing in the last minute but we worked hard right to the end.”
After the traditional post-game handshakes, Bellerose head coach Cory Albrecht huddled up with his players for a pep talk. Several of them were fighting back tears while the rest of the team was overcome by the emotional loss.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am with the way everybody played today,” he said. “We were only five seconds away from winning and going to the final.”
The Bulldogs roared into the semifinal after blasting the winless Salisbury Sabres 69-0 in Tuesday’s playoff in St. Albert. Viveca Robinson set a team record for points scored with 29 on three tries and seven converts. Biggar, Slevinsky, Shannon Giebelhaus, Amanda Johnson, Brooke Meunier, Kayla Keir, Alix Proctor and captain Caitlin Pon also scored tries. Slevinsky, the team’s MVP, was pulled in the first quarter. Despite having her left knee wrapped up in both playoff matches, the Grade 11 eight-man was outstanding against Facey in all facets of the game.
Facey now advances to play Sturgeon in Wednesday’s premier final at 5 p.m. at Ellerslie Rugby Park. Sturgeon humbled Paul Kane 48-0 Thursday at the Pirates Rugby Club. Sturgeon is gunning for its third premier title in four years. In league play the Big Red Machine blanked Facey 27-0. The premier champion will represent the Metro Edmonton league at the tier I (4A schools) provincials next weekend at Ellerslie.