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Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
T. Michael Hennessy, Law Office
Monday, Sep. 24, 2018
Take your best shot at beating the H-S football predictions
2018-09-10
by Randy Pascal

This article covers the teams predicted to finish in the top three places in SDSSAA high-school football this year. Numbers four to six will be profiled on Wednesday.

Just my luck. In the year that I decide to open up the challenge of besting the annual tradition that is my Sudbury high-school football season predictions (more on that later), the margin of separation between the top four teams is as close as it's been in a decade or more.

Looks like I am going to have to earn my dues in 2018.

Lively Hawks (5-0 - 1st place): Though positions one through four could easily be flipped on their head, the consensus in many corners, including this one, is that the defending champs remain the team to beat. Simply put, the weapons at the disposal of the league's most dynamic quarterback, Nick Rideout, are unmatched at any other school in the city.

The Hawks can start all-star Liam Punkari and Jr Gladiators Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Bell in the backfield, at running back, but it will shock no one if creative coach Reg Bonin works in some sort of spread offense in order to fully maximize the talent on hand.

If that's the case, Punkari and Bell are added to the glut of receiving options that include all-star wideout Nick Witzke, Lucas Howland, Eamon Dolphin, Ian Carter, Jack Rogers and Matti Nurmikivi. Even the loss of steady ball carrier Steven Head, out with an injury for the year, causes but a small dent in the ability of this unit to put up the points.

Better still, an offensive line that welcomes back the likes of Giovani Bagnarol, Dillon Jewitt and Matti Walli, and provides depth in the form of Foxx Van den Enden, Adam Taylor, Houston Matheson and Connor Haner can give Rideout that key second or two to find his receivers. And when they don't, then best of luck to opposing defences trying to corral last year's Most Outstanding Player.

That said, the Lively attack might need to hit twenty points plus per game as the defense that blanked St Benedict 35-0 in the 2017 SDSSAA final returns only three starters in the form of lineman Alex Gallant, linebacker Connor McLean (up from defensive back) and safety Victor Paajanen. The thing about Bonin, however, is that he's already demonstrated a knack for finding a way to turn natural athletes with raw talent into a cohesive twelve man group.

Owen Bronicheski, Brodie Howland and Alec Carter join Gallant up front, Dylan Brown and Josh Simpson round out the front seven with McLean, and Kelvin MacLean, Townes Laamanen, Dayton Niemi, Austin Dumaine and Paajanen are entrusted not to give up the big plays in the secondary.

Lo-Ellen Park Knights (4-1 - 2nd place): Truth be told, I switched Lo-Ellen and St Charles at the very last minute, all while taking the time for one final long, hard look at whether I thought St Benedict could leap-frog both of them. Such is the razor thin margin differences between this talented troika of teams.

In the end, a Lo-Ellen defense that can shine a spotlight on four players who earned all-star status in 2017, with another two or three candidates just waiting in the wings this fall, makes me the think that the Knights will not need to run up the score in order to slip past both the Bears and the Cards.

In the trenches, coach Kevin Ellsworth can lean heavily on Will Maki, Liam McDougall and Evan Gedye, with a run defense that is supplemented by arguably the league's best linebacking trio in the form all-star Ben Campbell, athletic Tyson McFadden and underrated Louis Mullin-Belanger.

Finally, the Knights have far better than average back-up in the form of a cornerback-halfback-safety combo of Declan Eldrige, Jacob Bartolucci, Cohen Brown, Kacey Thompson (Jr Glads Defensive Player of the Year) and Evan MacLean. The silver lining to the folding of the Lo-Ellen junior team is that Carter Will, Ty Hart and Cooper Fontaine are all likely to see plenty of time, as underagers, working with the vets in the Knights' secondary.

The real questions at LEP are on the other side of the ball, but not because of a lack of pure athletes. In fact, it is perhaps that multi-sport make-up of this crew that might have kept them from earning the pure football accolades of some of their brethren throughout the region.

Brodie Erwin is back to steer the ship at QB, with Jr Glads fullback Ryan Mackinnon at the core of what could be a very interesting backfield. There is some size in the targets that Erwin will survey when he looks to sling the ball, with Owen Coles, Jamie Edkins, Ben Ashley and William Maki all in the mix, and the coaching staff trying to find out how best to utilize soccer/track stalwart Luca Nardi.

Richard Duncan, Ethan Harris, Carter Pella and possibly Jared Huzij furnish some experience in the land of the hogs, with junior graduate Mashakwaat McQuabbie sure to benefit from a summer of OFC football.

St Charles College Cardinals (3-2 - 3rd place): If SDSSAA were still using four down football, the case for bumping the Cards up a notch or two might be a more compelling one. If others are to thrive or be grounded based on their aerial proficiency, the bread and butter at SCC remains the running game.

Guiding the offense, again this year, is returning pivot Nathan Rivet, who will enjoy the comfort that comes with a steady diet of hand-offs to a trio of Liam Cousineau, Buyi N'Galamulume and Alex Lockhart. The big question here is just how successful the Cardinals can be when they inevitably encounter second and long situations.

If a quartet of receivers – Andrew Foley, Liam Nelson, Tristan Day and Logan Wrigley – can find enough space to create viable targets for Rivet, the Cardinals could absolutely make it three championship banners in a four year span, and a first, at the senior level, for head coach Rob Zanatta.

Certainly, there are pieces to work with in all facets for the scarlet and grey. The offensive line is being rebuilt around the tandem of Riley Callendar and Braedan Gobbo, while the defensive front four of Evan Lamarche, James Bronicheski, Justin Dang and Aidan McAuley matches up nicely with anyone else in the league.

It's an all-new linebacking corps, though there are far worse places to start than with Jr Gladiators Lineman of the Year, Ravyn Mendonca, flanked by siblings Liam and Ethan Williamson. Speedster Erik Struk returns to a secondary that has high hopes for junior graduate Keenan Osawabine, among others.

In order to add an extra element of fun for all of those backseat prognosticators who question the validity of this pre-season tradition, the “Pascal Challenge” has been launched this fall. Anyone who wants to put their picks on the line against the expert (tongue planted firmly in cheek!) are asked to submit their picks, via email, to “info@sudburysports.com”, prior to the first game of the year Thursday night. A list of all of those who manage to better my predictions will be published at season's end.

Scoring system is one point for every game that you are off on your predictions (ie. If you predict Lively to finish at 5-0 and they are actually 4-1, you get one point). The idea is to have the lowest score possible – a perfect ballot would be a score of zero. If you've enjoyed debating the merits of these predictions in the past, here is your chance to show that you are the real expert when it comes to Sudbury high-school football.

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