Apparently, it's going to take an awful lot more than an early deficit to keep the Sudbury Junior Spartans down.
For the second consecutive week, the local OPFL (Ontario Provincial Football League) team spotted their opponent an early lead, down 7-0 following the opening drive on Saturday, before counter-punching with authority, outscoring the visiting Clarington Knights 21-6 over the final two quarters en route to a 36-13 triumph at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
While one could gradually feel the homeside taking control of this entertaining affair, it was a 79-yard touchdown run by Josh Giroux on the very first play from scrimmage in the third quarter that spelled the beginning of the end for the Knights, increasing the Sudbury lead to 22-7.
“It all start with the “O” line,” said Giroux. “They open the holes. All I have to do is read them, make the right cuts, avoid everyone in my way, and that left me wide open.”
That was exactly the same plan the Clarington crew appeared to possess, coming in. Despite fielding a lineup just 22 players deep, the Knights top end talent was impressive, led by the backfield tandem of Peter Vanderbruggen and Jamie Keast.
Relying almost exclusively on the ground game, the tandem helped the southerners march the field methodically, capping off their first possession with a 52 yard run by Vanderbruggen with 7:31 to play in the first quarter.
The Jr Spartans got that one back, capitalizing on a bad snap on a Clarington punt attempt, giving Sudbury the ball inside the 20 yard line. Just a few plays later, Blake Ramalho hauled in a six yard pass from pivot Devin Zloty, who had rolled out to his right, buying his receivers time and space.
Converts courtesy of Nathan Walker (Knights) and Cameron Moxam (Spartans) had the contest deadlocked at 7-7 until nearly the halftime break, when Alex Fleury gave Sudbury a lead they would never surrender, scampering in from the ten.
Though Moxam's PAT drifted wide, his defensive teammates would pick him up, getting that single point back and a bit more as Justin Faucher tackled the Clarington punter in his end zone, with just less than 90 seconds remaining in quarter two.
“All we really had to do was know our jobs and execute on the plays,” said Giroux. “I knew we could win, so did our whole team.” Still, there would be one final push by the Knights, after another conversion and single by Moxam had the scoreboard reading 23-7 in favour of the first year franchise.
With Sudbury's Zach Primeau battling tooth and nail to try and muster every last inch from a third quarter punt return, Jamie Keast alertly stripped him of the ball, pulling it away and rambling home from 25 yards out, making the score 23-13.
Still, one could sense that the threat was only minimal, as the Jr Spartans answered with just seconds to play in the third quarter. Josh Morin hauled in a long pass from Devin Zloty, allowing Sudbury to set up shop down near the goal line, where Giroux bulldozed his way to paydirt for a second time in the contest.
Not bad for a veteran of the Gladiators program who kind of meandered his way over to his current position. “I played receiver last year, then they switched me to DB (defensive back),” he said. “But in high-school (at Lo-Ellen), I started to play quarterback, but I couldn't see over our “O” line, so I just ran the ball, and they decided to put me at running back.”
“The coaches decided that would be the best fit for me, and so far, it's paid off.”
The final nail in the coffin came courtesy of Zach Primeau, who hauled in a crossing pattern from quarterback Michael Reich and darted 37 yards, with Moxam adding one final conversion. In the end, the depth of the Sudbury roster, along with their ability to simply adjust to a Clarington offense that was relatively one-dimensional, proved too much for the Knights to overcome.
“They would line up in the same formation, so we knew what play they were going to run,” admitted defensive back Carter Will, always in the thick of things, near the top of the charts in tackles, and adding an interception to his day's work as well.
“It was just up to us to stop them. We know they're a lot bigger than us, we know that every team we play is going to be bigger than us,” added Will. “We just have to keep that heart and determination, hit them low and take them down.”
A key component of pretty much every team he played on during a lengthy stay within the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League, Carter Will has suited up at pretty much every position imaginable, outside of the line. Clearly, he has found a home in the defensive secondary.
“I have really good ball tracking skills in the air, and I'm a good leader back there, helping guys on the edge not get burned,” explained the soon-to-be grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. “I'm always the halfback on the wide side. They think my speed out there is really good, helping stop the run. Most teams in this league like to run, so I'm there to help contain on the outside.”
And when opponents opt to pass, Will is nothing if not a ball-hawk, exemplified yet again with his late game pick, an apparent pick-six, only to be nullified by a penalty. “I saw it go up and it was floating in the air, the wind really picked up on the play,” recalled the 15 year old, who celebrates his 16th birthday next Friday.
“I heard the DB behind me yell “get it”, so I jumped up and got it. I saw the lane and scored, but unluckily, they called that block in the back.” Not that it would make much difference, in the grand scheme of things, as the Jr Spartans bump their season record up to 4-2 and prepare to face the Jr Bulldogs in North Bay next weekend.