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Saturday, Sep. 22, 2018
Spartans exasperated, but not despondent
by Randy Pascal

Despite dropping a pair of encounters on the road to the Oakville Longhorns this summer, the Sudbury Spartans offer no sense of hopelessness as they leave for a third trek to Bronte Field on Saturday, this time for their NFC (Northern Football Conference) quarter-final match-up.

They might sound frustrated, perhaps, but certainly not doomed.

"The last time we played Oakville, we really gave them a run at the end, and I don't think they saw that coming," noted 12 year Sudbury veteran Chris Tarini at practice on Thursday. "I've got a good feeling about this weekend."

The Longhorns opened the summer of 2017 with a 28-6 triumph over the Spartans, completing the sweep in week six to the tune of a 21-15 victory. Not to worry, says Tarini. "It's classic Sudbury Spartans' football - sometimes it takes us a little while to get going, to gel."

"We started off a little bumpy, but we're starting to move the ball a little more, and the defense is doing its thing." A member of a defensive unit that has held up their end of the bargain pretty much throughout the eight game schedule, Tarini sounds more upbeat than the man responsible for the overall oversight of the team.

For head coach Junior Labrosse, it has been a familiar refrain throughout this season. "The "O" linemen have got to act as one, not five individuals," stressed Labrosse. "It's not a complicated game. Block, make a hole, and we can run through it."

"Some guys are, for some reason, over-complicating some of the blocking schemes. They're not that complicated. Same thing with the receivers. The ball is thrown into their area, they put a hand on it, but they don't come down with the ball. It's very frustrating. It's been like that all season."

"You look at our defense, playing as one unit, but the offense still needs to put their individual egos aside for the common goal. You do what needs to be done." Not surprisingly, an offense that has only surpassed the 20 point plateau on one occasion (21 points versus North Bay in week five) and needed until the final regular season game to register their first major on the ground has led to more finger pointing than the coach would prefer.

"Instead of questioning everything, just do what you're being asked to do," said Labrosse. "Put in the sacrifice, make the block. I've been hard on the "O" line, hard on the offense, but they really have to play as one. And with an offense that's been struggling like ours has all year, you need to make those catches in key moments to generate some confidence."

If not, the Sudbury defense will not to be even more stingy than in their first two head to head battles, not an easy chore given some of the talent in the Longhorns' lineup. "The focus is on A.J. (Archelaus Jack), but they also have Ricky Clarke and multiple weapons," noted Labrosse.

"If you can shut down A.J. without having to double team him, then I think we can have success. And when A.J. catches the ball, we have to drop him there. He's an all-star kick returner, punt returner for a reason. If you give him open space when he catches a pass, he'll find the holes."

"They have some pretty impressive offensive weapons, and we've done a pretty good job of containing them the pass two games," acknowledged Tarini. While he would prefer to have home field advantage in the post-season, the long-time defensive back does not see it as a deal-breaker.

"I wouldn't say that it's a big difference, it's the same kind of field," stated Tarini. "Obviously, up here, the fans are the best in the league, so you always want to play in front of the fans and get that energy. We won't have that, but the guys pump each other up, and come playoff time, the guys are really jacked."

Win or lose, Tarini is feeling pretty good, these days, about being a member of the silver and blue. "To be honest, I think the program is in the best shape now that it's been in quite a while," he said. "I've been on both sides."

"Prior to our leave of absence, I can remember like eight seasons of just getting demolished. Now, we're in every game. Now, we hover around .500, and we hosted a playoff game two years ago."

"With (Dario) Zulich buying the team, it's caused a buzz, we're getting more of the young kids out now. We just need to go out and win a playoff game, and get that monkey off our back. But I think the program is headed in the right direction."

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