The Kelowna Secondary School Owls’ junior varsity football team has done something no other Okanagan high school football team has done before: they won the provincial championship.
On Dec. 1, the Owls squad — Grade 9 and 10 students — rolled over the Belmont Bulldogs 38-12 and took the provincial crown to the Okanagan for the first time. Led by quarterback Nate Beauchemin, the Owls embraced their underdog status as no previous Okanagan team has even made it to the finals, nonetheless won.
“Our core group of players have been playing together for eight years and we have chemistry,” said Beauchemin. “The coaches put in amazing systems for the players and our team has embraced it.”
Beauchemin, who plays QB and linebacker, threw for three touchdowns, ran in one touchdown while notching nine tackles and almost three sacks while on defence.
“We’re a well-rounded team on both sides of the ball. Throughout the regular season, we scored 328 points and only had 18 points scored against us,” said Beauchemin. “Our biggest struggle this season was playing the stronger teams in the playoffs that we weren’t used to playing in the regular season (because we play in the Okanagan).”
The journey to the finals and the game itself is something Beauchemin said was unforgettable.
“We woke up at 5 a.m. to get on the bus to Vancouver, thankfully we were able to sleep,” Beauchemin laughed. “The stadium was unreal and so big, I think it took as a little while to get used to playing on it.”
But the Owls would get used to playing on the same field the BC Lions use very quickly as the offence came out running and gunning to hold a lead most of the game. Beauchemin says though the offence was firing on all cylinders, it was the defence that won the Owls the game by only allowing 12 points.
Owls football program director and varsity coach Chris Cartwright has been with the Owls for three years and commends the coaching staff and players for the historic moment in Okanagan football.
“We’ve made history, it’s very exciting, and it’s an amazing achievement for these young players. Our great coaching staff work hard and are constantly learning to help coach these young kids to get them in the right spot to succeed on and off the field,” Cartwright said. “Our goal is to have our players be the best players they can be when they reach grade 12. (The junior varsity) boys have tasted success and will use it for their future.”
When Cartwright took over the Kelowna football program three years ago, he wanted to embed a culture into the program. T.O.U.G.H, as he calls it, is a mantra the players use for on and off-field activities.
“Team, Ownership, Universal, Growth, Heart. We believe it helps with the success of our players.”
It’s something junior varsity coach Kendall Gross has helped Cartwright develop at Kelowna Secondary.
“Kendall has done an amazing job coaching. Our coaching staff works together on both junior varsity and varsity,” said Cartwright. “We have 12 coaches committed to helping the kids develop life skills as well as football skills. Kendall coaches in the community and together we wanted to bring community and high school football together to help the players.”
With the football season over, next year’s Owls team will look a little different when the grade 12s graduate and the grade 10s move onto the varsity team. This means Beauchemin will have to battle with the seniors for a starting position, but Cartwright sees confidence in the young player.
“Nate’s an all around athlete and he’s played football for a lot of years,” Cartwright said. “He can play anywhere, and could play QB. There’s going to be a lot of challenges and competition for next year’s team.”
For Beauchemin, he only wants one thing for next season.
“Try and repeat the win,” stated Beauchemin, who’s favourite player is, fittingly, John Elway.
“It could be a battle for the starting QB; if the team needs me at QB, I’ll play there. I want to get better and get noticed too. I’d like to go to a good (university) with a good football team, and study physiotherapy when school is over.”
The football off-season is long, so the Kelowna Owls will take some time to regroup and develop. The season picks back up in February, where the Owls will battle for another provincial championship.
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