Valley Heights Bears come out fired up against Waterford

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Valley Heights wanted to make a statement Friday afternoon.

The Bears, hosting the Waterford Wolves for their H-N football season opener, took possession off the kickoff, pushed the length of the field, and scored on a 15-yard Zach Thomas throw to Ryan Thammavongsa.

A brilliant start for the Bears who had lost 65-0 to Waterford early last season.

“We came out fired up and hitting as hard as we could,” said Jordan Huyge, fullback and running back for Valley Heights. “We wanted to make a statement, and yeah… it wasn’t bad… getting a touchdown on our first series against Waterford.”

“Right off that first drive we moved the length of the field – and scored,” said Bears coach Dave Zakel. “I would say we moved the ball well against them.

“Defensively we played solid. There’s some room for improvement there – some blown plays, turnovers, whatever.”

Aggressive on third downs, Zakel said there were times when they should have punted. But this early in the season, he was willing to push the envelope.

“Props to Waterford, they capitalized on our mistakes. And they have a solid quarterback – he throws the ball well, sees the field well. We need to get penetration on the line.”

Injuries to an already thin lineup added to the one-sided nature of Friday’s game as the Wolves piled up points in a 55-6 victory.

“Valley Heights came out fired up,” credited Waterford coach Jim Merrick. “They were really sharp early on, and we’ve got a lot of inexperience out there. It was a good first drive by Valley Heights and kind of getting some kinks out for us.”

The Wolves went up 14-6 late in the first quarter with two touchdowns in quick succession by Michael Cooper and Matt Couperson.

“We’ve got a pretty experienced quarterback and receiving corps,” said Merrick. “You play to the strength of your squad, and we’ve got guys who guys who have been receivers for us for a number of years, and our quarterback, he’s is a fourth-year returning guy.”

Waterford took control in the second quarter with three more touchdowns by Greg Wise, Cooper, who had four on the day, and Wise again to lead 35-6 going into the second half. Corey MacLean also added a second-half touchdown.

“We hope we’re balanced, as the season progresses,” said Merrick.

“Defensively we’re pretty young. We lost a lot of experienced guys from last season and we’re still trying to figure out what works for us… and it’s going to be a process. It might take a few weeks to figure out.”

While Friday’s game, much like last season’s early-season shutout, was one-sided, Merrick was impressed by an improving Bears’ squad.

“Valley Heights… that’s a tough improved squad and they are going to be a team to reckon with,” he said. “That first quarter, that was a great start for them. There’s no doubt in my mind they’re going to be a team to reckon with.”


“We have a lot of work to do,” Zakel stressed. “We’re still working on a depth chart because we’re still getting new kids out. I think I put five kids into pads this past week.”

New to the VHSS lineup is Grade 11 quarterback Thomas, who showed much promise in the junior H-N Football Jamboree at VHSS in June.

“He’s catching on,” said Huyge. “From the start of the game last week – we played in St. Thomas (Arthur Voaden) – he’s improved a lot. He’s going to be a very good quarterback, I think. By the end of the game he knew what everybody’s plays were, what to do. He was doing really good.”

“I would say Zach’s much better than the quarterback we had,” said Zakel. “Much better. Zach’s going to be a gunslinger. Once he gets used to the speed of the game. He understands the concepts, he watches a lot of football. He’s a fantastic kid and he’s very coachable.

“Right now, it’s just getting used to the senior game. It’s a big step from junior to senior. And to start off with Waterford… Waterford may have lost a lot of guys, but they had a lot of depth. Their backups still have ability.”

Thomas completed five passes to four different players – Justin Young, Ryan Thammavongsa, Isak Knelsen, and two to Thomas Alton, for first-down gains of 10, 21, 13, and 21 yards, plus Thammavongsa’s TD.

“Part of it, the playcalling, was coming from being down, and I was trying to force some things,” Zakel admitted. “I’m sure, as a quarterback, he’ll take it on his shoulders. The big thing this week will be to reinstill his confidence, because he is a good quarterback.”

The Bears got rushing yards from five different players.

“We’ve got runners all over the place,” said Zakel. “The offence is designed to simplify things for our linemen, but to open up things for our runners and receivers… to become more of a dynamic offence. We still have a few steps to go.”

Huyge, who carried the ball 12 times for 94 total yards, was happy with his running performance. He gained yards on each of his first nine carries, lost yards on each of his last three.

“Very happy with it,” Huyge nodded. “Just got a little tired at the end of the game.

“Waterford, when you think about it, had double the kids that we do, and half of our guys are running both sides of the field. And on special teams. We just got gassed. We’ve got to come to practice all week, push ourselves and push our teammates, and get in better shape than we’re in right now.”

Practices started right from the get-go, said Huyge, but attendance has been spotty. As was noted by coaches in their post-game huddle, it’s been a stretch getting more than 20 to practice.

“Sometimes only 18 guys,” said Huyge, who works 10 hours every day in his co-op program before going to practice. He worked five hours before Friday’s game.

“It’s rough, but it is what it is,” said Huyge.

The biggest challenge, he said, is that with only 18 players at practice they can’t run true offensive plays without a 12-man defence.

“It’s tough.”

“It comes down to a lack of people at practice,” said Bears’ Josh Whitcroft, noting the second-half fade. “Not having the endurance to keep through it, to the finish. We have to have harder practices. We just died off without the endurance.

“We kept it close, then guys got tired, a couple injuries, and…” Whitcroft shrugged. “We did the best we could.”

“Last year we had numbers – at the beginning of the season we had 40 kids on the roster,” said Zakel. “We’d get 29-30 at practice. Right now, with 30, we’re getting 19-20 to practice. Typically it’s not an issue, but when your rosters a bit less… We haven’t had a full proper scrimmage, ever. Maybe last night because we had 24. But I think it’s going to improve.”

The Bears remain optimistic going into Week 2 and would like to see a repeat of last year’s run into the post-season where they defeated Simcoe 21-1 in the quarter-finals before losing to Waterford in the semis.

The team’s focus, said Whitcroft, next week will be ‘the finish.’

“Playing like we did in that first little bit through the entire game.”

“Oh yeah,” smiled Huyge, “we’re coming to practice Monday and we’re going to be ready to face Simcoe (at home Friday, Sept. 27, 2 p.m.).”

VHSS rushing

Jordan Huyge – 94 yards (12 carries)

Isak Knelsen – 67 yards (3 carries)

Ryan Thammavngsa – 5 yards (2 carries)

Thomas Alton – 21 yards (1 carry)

Justin Cridland – 2 carries

VHSS receiving

Justin Young – 10 yards

Ryan Thammavongsa – 15 yards (touchdown)

Isak Knelsen – 21 yards

Thomas Alton – 34 yards (2 receptions)

VHSS tackles

Justin Cridland – 5

Nick Gee – 1

Tanner Townsend – 2

Josh Whitcroft – 4

Justin Young – 1

Thomas Alton – 1

Brandon Parker – 1

Brandon Esmile – 1

Koric Duits – 1

Ryan Thammavongsa – 1

Adam Simon – 1

Peter Epp – 1 (and one sack)



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