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Some football favourites prevailed - others faltered
2023-10-31
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The Lo-Ellen Park Knights (seniors) and St Benedict Bears (juniors) both came into their city football finals as prohibitive favourites – with both teams taking on the Lively Hawks on Friday and Saturday respectively.

In the end, one prevailed and one was upset.

For as much as a Lively coaching staff led by the likes of Reg Bonin, Jordan Desilets and Dan Yoisten can prepare their squads for a particular opponent as well or better than anyone else in the city, the juggernaut that are the senior Knights were not to be stopped.

Sure, it was close at the half, Lo-Ellen up 14-7 thanks to a late touchdown pass from Steven Sola to Quin Mazzuchin.

But majors from both Nikki Sola (15 yard pass from his older brother) and Noah Skrobot (fumble recovery in the end zone on a little razzle-dazzle pooch-punt play the Knights unveiled) put this contest out of reach as Lo-Ellen stopped Lively 27-14, completing the three-peat.

Furthermore, the Knights have not lost to a SDSSAA opponent at any point over the course of those three years – though maintaining that streak certainly does not get any easier. “The past couple of years, we knew that we were the powerhouse team,” said versatile offensive talent Carson Huzij.

“Going into this year, we didn’t feel that we were the underdogs, but we knew that every team had us circled on the calendar. We tried to use that as motivation – and tried and forget about the last two championships and remember that this is a new season.”

Huzij opened the scoring for Lo-Ellen, scampering in from the 19 yard line – though with this team, that TD could have just as easily come from the likes of Carter Sagle or Jaeden Dulaney or Sola or Mazzuchin.

“I think all of our receivers know that it’s a team sport and that no matter what, we are all contributing to the team and to winning,” said Huzij. “Whenever we make a good play, all of the other receivers and screaming and bringing the energy up. We can all celebrate knowing that we will have our opportunity to go out there and make plays as well.”

Guiding this champion “ship” the past three years has been head coach Alex Vendramin, still a very young coach and by all accounts, one who is more than willing to constantly learn. “One thing I really like about Alex is that he is never afraid to ask the captains for our opinion,” said Huzij.

“He lets us give our input and our knowledge of the game into what he also has to say so that it’s really a combined effort.”

A mainstay of both Lo-Ellen and the Sudbury Jr Spartans summer program, Huzij and others welcomed aboard the likes of defensive lineman Scott Coles in 2023, with the 17 year-old more than happy to credit his progression in year two with the Knights at least in part to his OSFL experience a few months back.

“I think mentally, summer ball built me up a lot better – knowing formations and what can come through where, just knowing what’s coming,” said Coles. “Going up against bigger opponents works you as well and helps you improve a lot.”

It all added up to yet another key piece in a Lo-Ellen defensive unit that had relinquished just three touchdowns, all year, heading into the city final – but often flies under the radar due to the impressive playmakers on the other side of the ball.

“At the start of the season, we (the defense) kind of talked about that, how we were being slept on a little bit,” said Coles. “Even last year, we didn’t let up all that many points – but this year, we had a point to prove.”

The Knights will face the winner of the St Joseph Scollard Hall Bears – St Mary’s Knights NOSSA semi-final battle, taking to the road on November 11th.

The Lively Hawks junior boys’ team, however, will be able to stay put, thanks to a stunning 21-0 whitewashing of the St Benedict Bears Saturday afternoon at the James Jerome Sports Complex.

In their five games leading to the SDSSAA title affair, the Bears averaged 47.2 points per game.

When the teams met on October 5th in regular season play, St Benedict ran all over Lively to the tune of a 49-7 beatdown. On Saturday, the Hawks limited the south end powerhouse to either 11 or 12 plays from scrimmage – IN TOTAL – in the first half of the game.

Yep – that coaching staff can game plan with the best of them.

“I think all of our coaches are thinking outside the box at Lively,” noted Sladen Gajdemski, a 15 year-old who saw double duty in the championship affair and responded with a pair of touchdown runs and a huge effort with his mates on the Hawks defense.

“They’re always thinking of what we can improve on to beat specific teams,” he added. “Our coaching staff is incredible.”

They also possess a wonderful perspective on which games, in the end, mean the most.

“They give everybody playing time during the season,” chimed in offensive lineman and SDSSAA Novice Boys javelin champion Torance Gorman. “Other teams will play their starters the whole game but our coaches rotate everyone so that everyone gets playing time and gets better.”

“That made a huge difference.”

While Gajdemski was thrilled with his offensive output, joined on the scoresheet by Ryder Villeneuve (TD) and Cameron MacIntosh (3 converts), it’s fair to say that this game really came down to Lively’s ability to contain the Bears’ big threats.

“Defensively, we knew that we had to stop Dylan Nelson,” he stated. “We were there for the bubbles – and we had to play with more aggression.”

And with the offense moving the ball from time to time, typically on the ground and taking up large chunks off the clock, the game plan was obvious, right from the start.

“We just had to be ourselves, nothing too fancy; get the ball and run it,” said Gorman. “Our line is very physical, very hard working. It doesn’t matter the size, they always hit people.”

And now they will have a chance to hit one more time, hosting the Korah Kolts from Sault Ste Marie in the NOSSA junior boys final next Saturday afternoon at James Jerome.

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