It may have taken them a quarter or so to get their game feet back under them, but by the end of their season opening 36-0 win over the visiting Etobicoke Eagles, it was clear that the Sudbury U16 Jr Spartans have absolutely no intention of resting on their laurels.
Receiving key contributions from newcomers and returnees alike, the defending OSFL (Ontario Summer Football League) champs got their bearings through a scoreless first quarter, built up a 14-0 lead by the half and rolled to the finish line as both teams dealt with a steady stream of rain, pretty much from start to finish of what is officially considered a pre-season encounter.
After having his very first pass of 2023 intercepted by William Ellinas – ironically creating one of the very few times the Eagles would actually venture into the Sudbury half of the field – Lively signal-caller Ian MacDonald settled in nicely, connecting on a nine yard TD pass with Quin Mazzuchin (who made a pair of great catches) midway through the second quarter and then darted in, on his own on a quarterback draw from the eight to give the Spartans a lead they would never relinquish.
“I think after the first drive where I threw a pick, I realized that this is not like a practice, this is a game,” said MacDonald. “I have to be more patient. I have to get into the zone.”
The 14 first half points would turn out to be all the offense the home side would need as the Sudbury defense, anchored by a front four of Jaden Brennan, Cohen Strickland, Cole Preston and George Crawford that surrendered maybe 30 to 40 yards rushing to Etobicoke for the entire game, simply did not give any ground at all.
“Our defense and our special teams were amazing,” said MacDonald. “Our defense stopped them every time and gave us good position out there.”
That – and Paolo Grossi was, well, Paolo Grossi.
The ultra-talented safety returned an interception 58 yards for a fourth quarter major after Sudbury running back Mason McLaughlin had increased the lead to three scores with a one yard run in the third. Grossi returned a handful of punts into Etobicoke territory, running around or through opponents and looking fully in mid-season form, adding four converts to his stat-line, just for good measure.
Nicholas Gauthier, who joined Noah Parsons in earning some time at QB with the Sudbury lead safe in the second half, capped off the scoring with a 6 yard run late in the contest. Even a poor snap on the point after went the way of the Spartans as holder Riley Warton improvised perfectly, finding the corner and making his way to the end zone for a two point conversion.
Though everyone was getting in on the action defensively for the northern crew, the tone was clearly being set by the front four, only one of whom (Crawford) actually suited up with the team in 2022.
“I had a really great season (with Lasalle Junior Lancers) and got a lot of good recommendations from our coaches to come and play for them (Jr Spartans),” admitted Jaden Brennan, a rookie to summer football who was busting through the line with regularity.
“On the second defensive series, the coaches told us that their quarterback was looking to where they were going to go with the ball – so we knew where to go.”
After making his presence felt as a linebacker in the SDSSAA Junior Football ranks last fall, Brennan agreed to make the shift to defensive tackle, part of a defensive unit that looks poised to cause headaches for adversaries on virtually every single play from scrimmage.
“I am much closer to the offense now; I don’t get as much room to run anymore,” said Brennan. “But I like the line better. I like the contact.”
With pretty much every single player on the roster getting to see some field time, coaches and players alike were thrilled with the base that has been built right out of the gate for this team. “I am really happy that we were all able to run through some of our plays, that all of the hard work that we put in the last four weeks paid off in this game,” said Brennan.
That said, next Saturday, against what is expected to be a tougher opponent in the form of the Peterborough Wolverines, the U16 Jr Spartans get to try and do it all over again – on the road, no less.
“We have to go into practice next week with the mindset that this game didn’t even happen,” stressed MacDonald. “It’s a new game, a new team, a new opponent to conquer.”
Though their game started an hour or so later than the U16 encounter, the Sudbury U18 Jr Spartans seemed intent on following directly in their footsteps, posting a 19-0 win of their own over the Clarington Knights on the road.
Braeden Beggs ran for three majors and added a convert, accounting for all of the Sudbury scoring.