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Huge crowd on hand as high-school football gets rolling
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The Lo-Ellen Park Knights are clearly the team to beat; the Lively Hawks' defense delivered as expected; the Lasalle Lancers are much better than anticipated; and we need to pump the brakes somewhat on the Confederation Chargers.

Those were the week one takeways from SDSSAA senior football as play wrapped up Friday with the seating capacity at the James Jerome Sports Complex a good 200 seats or so below what was needed for the Lo-Ellen vs St Benedict Bears 7:00 p.m. encounter.

It was a credit to those on hand, the majority of whom braved it out til the end despite the fact that the Knights bolted to a 35-0 lead at the half en route to a 42-6 win over the Bears.

It took all of 24 minutes of football to confirm that Lo-Ellen QB Steven Sola and his deep and talented group of receivers were going to be a handful for every defensive secondary in the league.

By then, the all-star pivot had connected on TD passes to Carter Sagle (twice - 39 yards and 62 yards), Quin Mazzuchin (30 yards) and Byron Nelson (28 yards), setting up those majors with a dart to Carson Huzij (30 yards) - in addition to running the final score of the half in by himself.

The Knights closed off their scoring with a fourth quarter 48 yard TD pass from Noah Parsons to Sagle, not all that long after Thomas Rinaldi broke the goose-egg for the Bears, sprinting his way to the end zone from 20 yards out.

Lo-Ellen coach Alex Vendramin sat the majority of his starters in the second half, allowing folks like Chris Groulx to get some work in at the second position on their chart.

"I have practiced a little bit at running back in practice but mostly at linebacker because I am starting at that position," said the 17 year-old who had seen the field only for special teams play last year, his first with the team.

"I'm just a back-up running back but it felt good to get reps out there," added Groulx, who looked more than capable bulldozing his way through the line of scrimmage late in the game. "I am still learning the offense but the quarterback (Parsons) kept it simple for me, so it was just go out and run."

Despite the score, St Benedict actually looked quite good on their opening drive, getting solid field position after a nice kickoff return from Drake Thiessen, the wideout then hauling in a pair of short passes from Phoenix Marks and Noah Conde getting loose on a couple of runs before Michael McKernan recovered a fumble for Lo-Ellen.

"That first drive was kind of rough on our defense," said Groulx. "A lot of that was on me. I should have been a bit more patient when I was playing contain. But we got back in the huddle, the coach let me know what was up and we were able to adjust."

To be sure, the excitement of opening night and a crowd that likely wandered into the 700 or 800 or more range only added to the emotions for many players, Groulx included.

"I can't lie, this was amazing; probably one of the best days of my life," said the young man who had little to no background or knowledge of football until a couple of years ago. "It's one thing when you're on specials (special teams), but playing on the field (for offense and defense) is a whole different thing."

"The atmosphere is crazy."

That said, it is with his feet planted firmly on the ground that Groulx addressed what lies ahead for the Knights if they are to three-peat this year.

"We just have to work hard and stay humble," he stated. "We've got to go out every game, stay hungry, work as hard as possible - that's it."

Where the Knights were in high gear by the half, the Lively Hawks were only starting to roll at that point.

Their matchup with the St Charles College Cardinals remained scoreless until just before the break with Lively opening the scoring on a safety touch courtesy of Nik Charbonneau.

Maintaining possession and starting at their own 35, the Hawks then marched the field with Owen MacDonald picking up 13 of his 96 yards gained on the ground in the opening half and a key pass interference call setting up an Ian MacDonald to Aiden Fauteux 20 yard TD reception, giving LDSS an 8-0 lead going into the second half.

The team added a pair of early singles in Q3 before Owen MacDonald scored from the two to make it 17-0, the Hawks closing off their 24-0 whitewashing of the Cards with a second MacDonald to Fauteux connection, this one covering 30 yards.

With Riley Bosse making his first start at QB for St Charles, the Cards focused mostly on a ground attack, which was a little problematic given that Nik Charbonneau was in their backfield almost as often as their own running backs.

"They just weren't blocking me," said the 16 year old grade 12 returnee who is lining up at defensive end this year and shies away from an approach that generally is favoured more by most defensive linemen.

"A three-point stance just doesn't feel natural to me," he said. "I feel like I get off the line quicker from my two-point stance."

With one of the smaller student bodies in the league, Lively still manages to field a team of 32 in the senior division, with fairly similar numbers at the junior level as well - a reality that Charbonneau suggested is a big part of their success.

"This is such a close team," said the young man who started playing in grade 12 and has taken snaps at offensive tackle and slotback as well during his time with the Hawks. "There's not very many people (at our school), so everybody knows each other."

"We've been in school since kindergarten together - and we have a bunch of hard hitting guys. It's just fun playing with them."

The surprise of the week came Thursday night as the Lasalle Lancers upended the Confederation Chargers 17-6. Zidain Allen accounted for 11 points on his own (TD, FG, PAT and single), with quarterback Riley Worton also crossing the goal line while Owen Blay did likewise for the Chargers.

The week two schedule runs entirely on Friday (September 22nd), with Lasalle battling Lo-Ellen at 2:30 p.m., Lively and Confederation kicking off at 5:00 p.m. and St Charles and St Benedict wrappings things up at 7:30 p.m. - all at the James Jerome Sports Complex.

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