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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Lively Hawks defend their title
by Randy Pascal

There is no denying that the St Benedict Bears provided the Lively Hawks with two of the three stiffest tests the defending SDSSAA senior football champs would face this fall.

But on Friday in the city final, just as had been the case when the times met in their regular season match-up, the Hawks would find a way to win. A couple of key second half defensive plays, combined with an opportunistic offense that supplied just enough of a cushion, lifted coach Reg Bonin and company to a 21-7 win and a berth in the NOSSA semi-final in Sault Ste Marie next Saturday.

Nothing much was solved through the opening two quarters of play as a 26 yard touchdown run in the final minute of the initial frame by Nicholas Rideout (he would also add the point after) was offset by a TD toss from St Benedict quarterback Adam Rocha to Brennan Maag, some seven minutes later, with Giovanni Mastroianni chipping in with the convert.

"Their defense played really well," noted Bonin. "Compared to the first time that we played them, I thought that their defense was significantly better. We had a short field, before our touchdown, then we scored and didn't do anything the rest of the half."

That said, there was certainly no need to press the panic button with the contest tied at 7-7 at the half. "We felt that we hadn't played our best football," said Bonin. " We thought if we just improved our play by 10% to 15%, we would be OK. To me, it felt like the whole first half, St Ben's had the ball. We had a lot of two and outs."

The challenge for slight improvement was one the Hawks' defense would take to heart. A key interception by Cole Kennedy, late in the third quarter, would set up the go-ahead score, a short run (one yard) this time for Rideout.

"We were able to get a short field (again) and then we called five to six straight run plays, kept it simple," Bonin explained. "We ran with either Tyler (Bell) or Nicholas (Rideout) and went right at them."

Still, the TSN turning point would come at almost exactly the halfway point of the fourth and final quarter. Already enjoying one heck of a ball game, Lively linebacker Connor MacLean forced a fumble, a loose ball which was promptly scooped up, on a bounce, by defensive back Victor Paajanen who sprinted 65 yards to register the TD that would effectively put this contest away.

"He (MacLean) was incredible last night," noted Bonin, when reached on Saturday. "In the first quarter alone, I think he had three sacks. He is a downhill player. Keeping him going forward is when he is most successful."

In fact, after showing signs of having some chinks in their armour when it came to defending the pass in the first match-up with the Bears, this rematch effort drew glowing praise from the coach.

"Their passing game was good, Rocha was really good, but we were able to get some pressure," said Bonin. "They would complete a couple of balls, they would run on us a bit, but then we would force a negative play and that would kill the drive."

"Our pass rush was very controlled," added Bonin. "We didn't give Adam a lot of space to step up and move around. We were forcing him backwards or sideways. We were very conscious of not giving up the big play, that was part of our plan. If they were going to score, make it be on a long drive."

As is the norm with most of the city finals, the teams did have a few key players on the field for all but perhaps five to eight plays. Bonin noted that Rideout (QB/safety), Nick Witzke (WR/DB), Cole Kennedy (center and LB) and Giovanni Bagnarol (both OL and DL) were among the biggest contributors in this regard.

The Hawks will now begin preparation for the NOSSA semi-final next Saturday in Sault Ste Marie, as the local reps battle the Korah Colts.

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