Roadrunners gear up for conference showdown

The Mission Roadrunners football team are ranked first in the province at the AA level.

The Mission Roadrunners have begun the 2014 season like a Warner Bros cartoon, sprinting effortlessly to victory while their opponents battle a hail of anvil-like tackles, dynamite rushing, and cliff-sized scoring deficits.

Not that anyone is surprised, considering the Mission Secondary squad entered the season ranked first in the province at the AA level, with 15 Grade 12 athletes on their roster and one of the best athletes in the province in rusher/receiver/quarterback Jesse Walker.

The Roadrunners have played two games so far against Eastern Conference opponents, beating Rick Hansen 52-26 on Oct. 4, before out-distancing G. W. Graham 26-6 last Friday (Oct. 10). They will face the Pitt Meadows Marauders this Friday in what will likely be their toughest conference match-up this season.

Longtime coaching duo Danny Jakobs and Kevin Watrin are especially proud of this season’s roster as they’ve trained most of the athletes from the beginning of their high school careers. They admit that coaching this team has been easier than usual, since their players are mostly program veterans and seniors who pick up on plays and techniques with impressive speed.

“Most of these kids have been here from Grade 8 through 12,” said Watrin. They’ve been here since the get-go.  You remember them as little tiny kids playing Grade 8, and now they’re young men playing senior ball.”

“We’re really settling down into what I thought we would be,” said Jakobs. “That’s being a physical team, a smart football team with some exceptional athletes.  It’s coming together and it’s really been exciting to see.”

Ironically, one of the Roadrunners’s biggest challenges so far this season has been in trying to balance their offensive weapons, and not succumb to the temptation of simply handing the ball to “wildcat quarterback” Walker, who averaged 11.3 yard per carry last season.  Last Friday after going up 26-0 on G. W. Graham in the first half, the Mission squad began to diversify their offence in game, with mixed results. The Roadrunners pulled out the victory along with some important lessons, but also gave up three turnovers and a fumble.

“As we’ve gone up on teams we’ve really tried to diversify our attack and work on passing, because we’re not going to get better as a team if we just give the ball to Jesse every time,” admits Jakobs. “He would run all over the place, which is great, but we need to work on the pass, get other guys the ball, and develop a really broad offensive attack so when we get to the playoffs we can try to beat our opponent in many different ways.”

The Roadrunners success this season is in large part due to the prowess of the team’s linesmen, including Peter Kulba and Dayton Robertson, as well as tailback Reilly Demarco. Jakobs also credits relative newcomer Landon Rayburn, calling him a “defensive terror” on the field.

This week’s game against the Marauders will be the first real test of Mission’s calibre, and Jakobs is looking forward to seeing how his squad matches up.

“Pitt Meadows is a power team and we’re a power defence, so I think it’s going to be a clash of similar styles with their offence and our defence and I feel good about that,” he said. “They’ve got a couple great defensive tackles, so we’ll just have to have a game plan for them…Supposed to be rainy, so I think it will be a good ol’ fashioned knock ‘em down and drag em out football game.”

Both Jakobs and Watrin are proud of the culture created by their team, and the pride each of their athletes has in the program. “We have had some prolonged success…and this might seem simple or cliche, but they enter the game expecting to win and having that positive attitude of wanting to do their best. They’re young kids so they make mistake from time to time, but it’s neat seeing the confidence they have after being part of our program for a number of years, and the pride that they have coming up through it … It’s a subtle thing, but it’s important.”

The Roadrunners will face the Marauders Friday at 1:45 p.m. at Pitt Meadows Secondary.