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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018
Gladiators offense comes up empty
by Randy Pascal

Over the years, the Toronto Jr Argonauts and Sudbury Varsity Gladiators have built up a healthy mutual respect, largely on a foundation of some classic OFC (Ontario Football Conference) matchups.

On Saturday, it was the visiting Toronto crew that were full measure for the respect that is given to the defending league champs, the Jr Argos registering a 17-0 win, in Sudbury, as both teams opened their 2018 schedules.

The contest remained close for a good, long time, still scoreless until late in the opening half. The Jr Argonauts would capitalize following a tight pass interference call deep in Gladiators territory, with quarterback Dolani Robinson sneaking in on a delayed draw from two years out, just a few plays later. Nicholas Nielsen made good on the convert, allowing Toronto to head into the halftime break holding a 7-0 lead.

The Jr Argos doubled that advantage with 2:43 to play in the third quarter when Robinson connected with running back Cazzie Shallow on a 25 yard pass and run, as Nielsen split the uprights with the point after attempt. Just for good measure, the Toronto kicker closed out the scoring, nailing a field goal from the 16 year line midway through quarter four, with the Argonaut defense doing the rest.

“To be honest, our front seven this year, our “D” line and linebackers, are probably going to be amongst the strongest in the league,” noted veteran head coach Carlo Onorati, now in his eighth year at the helm of the Argonauts. “We've got a lot of senior guys. For teams to run the ball on us, it's going to be very tough.”

Sudbury coach Aaron Rehel was certainly not about to dispute that assessment. “I'm not taking away anything from what Toronto did,” he said. “They played well on defense, they tackled well, they pretty much held us in check from most of our big plays. But we were knocking on the doorsteps two or three times. It's a matter of going back to the drawing board on our situational offense, and that's on me. I shoulder the blame for this one.”

In fact, the Gladiators had actually opened the scoring in the first quarter when a short field goal attempt from a bad angle by Nick Rideout sailed wide, giving Sudbury the single point. But with Toronto flagged for a five yard penalty, the homeside took the points off the board, opting to go for more on third down, and coming up short. A second third and goal from inside the five, late in the contest, also came up empty.

“Offensively, we've got a thrower and we've got some guys who can catch the ball and make big plays,” stated Rehel. “We have to find a running game. I'm going back to the drawing board and see if we can find something there.” In fact, when Sudbury was successful in moving the ball downfield, it was largely on passes from Andrew Rocha to Rideout, with the latter hooking up with Nick Witzke on a long trick play (double pass) in the second half.

But if the former Ottawa Gee Gees running back turned coach was prone to being hard on himself, the same could not be said of the man in charge of the opposing bench. “I've gotten to know coach Rehel over the years,” noted Onorati. “X's and O's, he's probably one of the better coaches in the league. When we have to get our team ready and prepped, we think a lot about what coach is going to be doing on the other side of the ball.”

“We knew, coming into this, that Sudbury usually likes to have a running the ball offensive mentality,” Onorati continued. “Our game plan was to take that away, make you guys pass. You've got a great young quarterback in Adam Rocha. Our QB, Dolani Robinson, I thought, was great all day. Our running back (Cazzie Shallow), for a smaller guys, is very very tough to bring down. He runs hard.”

As for coach Rehel, he and his staff might well have some extra time to expend their energies on the offensive side of the ball, fairly satisfied with what they saw from their defense in the opener. “This is a game I am proud of,” said Rehel. “I'm not upset about what happened, I'm not upset about the score.”

“Defensively, I saw a lot of guys rally, rally to the ball. That's what you want. It's not just one guy to the ball carrier, it's two, three, four, and then guys piling on. That's the type of defense I want, that's the type of defense I like seeing. I think every coach would agree with that.”

In the first game of the day, the Toronto Jr Argonauts set the stage for game two, blanking the Sudbury Junior Gladiaors 33-0 in JV action. Quarterback Sam Caplice tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Ethan Gracey (14 and 54 yards), with Toronto adding three more majors on the ground, courtesy of Michael Oliva (23 yds), Gianluca Infusino (30 yds) and Jaden Woodmansey (1 yard).

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