- BC Games
INSTANT REPLAY: Two friends, 3 interceptions and 3 TD passes
The Buchanan Bowl, the annual football bash between Carson Graham Eagles and Handsworth Royals whose 2013 encounter is set for this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Confederation Park beside Carson Graham, has produced plenty of highlights over the years.
One of my all-time favourites from among the 26 official (1987-2012) and 21 pre-Buchanan Bowl era (1969-86) league and playoff conflicts between the two rivals involves current Handsworth head coach Jay Prepchuk and TSN’s popular Canadian Football League gridiron analyst Glen Suitor.
It was Oct. 19, 1978, coming up exactly 35 years ago, when the two now-long-time friends opposed each other as players on the field at Handsworth.
Do they remember the game? They sure do. And it’s no wonder.
Prepchuk was in Grade 12, quarterbacking coach Dave Pearce’s Royals. Suitor, a Grade 11, was playing safety for Carson Graham, coached by Earl Henderson.
Suitor picked off three of Prepchuk’s passes, but Prepchuk connected for touchdowns on three other tosses and Handsworth won 20-0. At the time, it evened the all-time record between the two rivals at six wins each.
The interceptions by Suitor were a foreshadowing of his football future. After an outstanding career with Simon Fraser where he and Prepchuk were teammates, Suitor was picked 15th overall in the 1984 CFL draft by Saskatchewan and enjoyed an 11-year career (1984-94) with the Roughriders during which he intercepted 51 passes, still the ’Rider record. He earned CFL West all-star status five seasons (1989-93) plus CFL all-star selection from 1991-93.
Suitor – who held the snap for Dave Ridgway’s last-second field goal that won the 1989 Grey Cup 43-40 over Hamilton in what is arguably the most thrilling in the game’s 100-year-old history – is still revered in the land of wheat, Tommy Douglas and John Diefenbaker. Despite living back in North Van, he continues to be featured on sports radio shows in Regina and Saskatoon in addition to his cross-Canada football analysis.
Prepchuk, who went on to rack up 18 SFU game, season and career records (including most yards passing) remembers two of Suitor’s interceptions in minute detail. That’s despite the hundreds of games he’s been involved in since then as a player and as teacher-coach at Vancouver College (1985-87), Windsor (1987-99; 2002-03) and as UBC’s head coach (1999-2001). He’s been back at Handsworth since 2003. This summer the Seattle Seahawks awarded him their 12th Man North award for his contributions to the game.
The three of us met up last Friday at the end of a pre-season scrimmage between West Van and Prepchuk’s Royals at Handsworth, the very site that featured Suitor and Prepchuk 35 years ago, to sort of re-enact that long-ago game with the photo you see at right.
“I remember it was a beautiful sunny day… a great day for football,” Prepchuk recalls as he immediately taps into his mind-eye’s rear-view mirror. “I was excited because I thought we could throw the ball well against them. We had a great game and moved the ball very well and then Glen just read me perfectly. He was by far the best safety that I played against all year.
“I remember stepping back one time and not seeing him in the area that I was going to throw to and throwing a post to Mike Bellefontaine.
“Glen just kind of jumped out from nowhere,” continues Prepchuk, frequently punctuating his recollections with laughter at the memories, “and I couldn’t believe it because I thought I’d thrown a touchdown pass and here’s Glen jumping right out in front of it and picked it off. So I was very surprised and obviously disappointed that I’d thrown that interception because I thought I’d thrown a perfect pass and was ready to celebrate a touchdown.
“I remember another drive that we were on, right near their goal line, and I threw another pass that I thought was a good pass and he again read the play and made a really nice interception in the end zone. I remember being so upset on one of the interceptions that I ran as fast as I could to go tackle him and had a really good physical, hard tackle on him actually.”
Fortunately for Handsworth, Suitor didn’t get far on any runbacks and Prepchuk hit paydirt with three other passes.
Dave Empey’s game report in The Citizen called Prepchuk’s outing “a gilt-edged performance” and noted he “threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Rob Watson, a 30-yarder to Jerome Erdman and a 20-yard bomb to Mike Bellefontaine” while completing nine of 19 passes for 167 yards.
Incidentally, Watson eventually became a longtime coach at Carson Graham. Erdman went on to play at SFU, then eight years in the CFL, including a Grey Cup win in 1984 with Winnipeg, and five years in NFL Europe with Glasgow Lions before beginning a coaching career with European, CFL, UBC and McGill University teams. Bellefontaine subsequently played at UBC on the T-Birds’ 1986 Vanier Cup champions and one season with BC Lions in 1989.
Suitor, despite admitting, “I don’t remember the detail of the interceptions; I just make it up,” also says, “I think actually the story has improved as the years have gone on.
“Jay and I are hockey linemates with Steve Martin [former Windsor football coach] in a senior men’s league on the North Shore. We’re called the ‘Football Line,’ the fourth line in a three-line system,” he jokes. “Maybe twice a year the old high school days will come up when we’re sitting in the locker room. That’s when I remind everyone that Prepchuk was a great quarterback in college and got a walk-on tryout in Saskatchewan. But in high school, through college and now, I remind him that there were those picks in the big game at Handsworth.”
So if you want a little excitement, be sure to take in the Buchanan Bowl Saturday. You might witness another Suitor or Prepchuk. Or perhaps a Sean Millington, a Jerome Pathon, a Bruce Barnett or even another Roger Bassam (current NV District councillor) or a Justin Beddall (now editor of The Outlook).
Bassam (Carson Graham’s quarterback in 1985 and ’86) and Beddall (Handsworth defensive end and tight end in 1986 and ’87) faced each other in the big game in 1986. It was the last time the schools met before the Buchanan Bowl trophy was created. CG won 19-0. The game was played at Handsworth. And there were no interceptions as far as I know.
This is episode 487 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.