© Herald Photo by Dave Leaderhouse
Carlton quarterback Julian Bird gets ready to take a snap during the Crusaders' thrilling 30-11 triumph over Bethlehem on Thursday at Max Clunie Field. Bird would score a pair of touchdowns in helping Carlton keep its playoff hopes alive.
There were a wide range of emotions shown following the Carlton Crusaders’ convincing 30-11 victory over the Bethlehem Stars on Thursday at Max Clunie Field.
There was jubilation for recording their first victory of the season; there was excitement following head coach Rylan Michalchuk’s pep talk that a win in their final game next week could still get them a spot in the playoffs; but most importantly, for the senior players in particular, there was sadness as it was their final home game of their high school football careers.
With the latter came an additional sentiment as most of the older players were good friends with Max Clunie, a teammate who lost his life in a plane crash more than two years ago and would most certainly have been on the field on Thursday sharing in the victory.
As it was, Clunie’s presence was felt throughout the night. When entering the field that now bears his name, the Carlton players carried his No. 27 jersey with them and following the victory a number of players had their picture taken with the sweater once worn by their inspirational friend.
“For the Grade 12’s, it’s their last year and to finish their high school career here at Max Clunie Field, and to get the win is pretty special,” said Michalchuk. “They have put so many years of hard work into the program.”
The outcome of the game really never was in doubt as the Crusaders scored early with quarterback Julian Bird getting the first of his two one-yard rushing majors on Carlton’s first trip down the field.
The big story was how many different ways rookie Landon Aimoe could be involved in the final outcome.
Smallish in stature, Aimoe was a huge reason for the Crusaders recording the victory as the Grade 10 student hauled in a 55-yard pass to set up the first scoring play, had a pair of interceptions, handled all of the punting for Carlton, played most of the third quarter as the quarterback when Bird recovered from a hard hit at the end of the first half, blocked on several plays, fielded punts on the return team and then in the final minute of play got a single point when his punt went through the Bethlehem end zone. He also had a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown nullified on a Carlton holding penalty.
“We’re lucky to have a Grade 10 player to be that composed,” says Michalchuk. “He’s a very coachable kid and very passionate about the game.”
The bad news is that Aimoe will be wearing a different uniform next year as the former quarterback for the bantam River Riders will be moving to North Battleford when the school semester ends as his family has already relocated there.
“We’re definitely going to miss him; we’ve been bugging him to stay with his grandma,” laughed Michalchuk.
The Crusaders led 7-3 after the first quarter of Thursday’s game and after they gave up a safety added a single to make it 8-5 at half time.
When Bird returned to the field late in the third quarter, the versatile quarterback got his second major on another one-yard scamper to make the score 15-5 entering the final quarter.
Shelton Paul, with a four-yard run, and Bryson Simpson, with a seven-yard plunge, scored the final majors for Carlton with Ryan Earing converting all four scoring plays.
The Crusader defence was stifling as it finished the game with eight turnovers – four interceptions, one fumble recovery and three on downs. The only major scored by Bethlehem was a 75-yard punt return by Zach Turner late in the fourth quarter.
Carlton, which has a 1-4 record in league play, completes its schedule next Friday when they travel to Saskatoon to face St. Joseph’s. A Crusader win will put them in a large group with two victories and could be enough to get them into the playoffs.
St. Mary Marauders are in that group with two wins, but they have a game in Saskatoon tonight against Centennial and then end their season at home next Friday against Aden Bowman.