CALGARY – The Banff Bears boys rugby team is ready to take a giant bite out of provincial competition after winning zones for the first time in six years.
Jonah Ellis and Evren Odyakmaz scored two tries each and the Bears clawed through their rivals the Strathcona-Tweesdmuir Spartans, 43-17, winning the south central banner on Monday (June 5) at Calgary Rugby Union.
Scoring one try were Alex Scurfield, Hisui Konya and Cam Geyer.
“It was really exciting,” said Geyer, a Grade 12 fly half. “Going into provincials now brings some confidence to the team. We beat [the Spartans] in a previous game, but they brought a lot to this game, so we had to work for that one.”
The last time the Bears won zones was in 2017, which was also against the Spartans, when the local team’s roster was deeper than Lake Minnewanka.
Like then, the 2023 Bears have loads of depth that’s made up of 16 Grade 12s. Even with two starters not playing in Monday’s match, the Bears took care of business.
“We’ve got strength in every position and we’ve got a handful of reserves that are utility guys that can go into any gap,” said head coach Ian Higginbottom.
After kick-off, the Spartans struck first with the match’s first try less than five minutes in. However, going down quickly and early didn’t rattle the Bears’ confidence.
The Bears’ first points came minutes later when Geyer set up a charging Konya to get Banff on the scoreboard.
The local team’s try shifted momentum, which led to Ellis punching in back-to-back tries. The winger and local jiu-jitsu stud also booted four conversions at the Calgary Rugby Union field.
After going down two tries, Spartan players were shouting from the sidelines to their team that the match was not over yet. Before the end of the first half, the Spartans managed to score, but the Bears made them earn every inch of it.
“You put that first [Spartan's] try behind you and you work forward,” said Geyer. “We came back strong and we were confident and we just never let down.”
At the start of the second half, the Bears led 19-12 and took control of the match and scoreboard.
Speed demon Scurfield had two massive runs early on that set up easy tries for Geyer and Odyakmaz.
Scurfield, the younger brother of national sevens team speedster Krissy Scurfield, looked like he was channelling big sis out there as he swerved and deked through Spartans and turned on turbochargers at the right times.
Up 31-12, the match was the Bears to lose.
The Spartans managed to pull off a desperate score once again – another hard fought push over the line – but as the clock ticked down, it was the last effort the opposition could muster against the Bears.
The Spartans’ try was answered with two more from the Bears as Scurfield and Odyakmaz closed out the show.
Despite what the scoreboard read, Higginbottom said the match was a lesson for the club about to take on the province’s best high school teams.
“I think there is still a lot of little things we could tidy up – that definitely wasn’t our best game of the season,” said Higginbottom. “The boys ran hard, they played hard and they persevered, but still a lot of little mistakes. We could a ton of penalties and if we’re playing a stronger team, they’re going to make us pay.”
The team advances to provincials Friday and Saturday (June 9-10) in Calgary.
Banff won provincials in 2018 after being the second berth into the tournament that year.
“I want to say [we’ll finish in] first, obviously,” said Geyer. “You want to go in with some confidence. I mean, there’s going to be some really good teams there, but we’re going to bring it all there, so we’ll just bring our best and go for first.”