The Sudbury Jr Spartans have really hit their rhythm and the end result is likely far more than the first year Ontario Provincial Football League (OPFL) team could have ever imagined.
Their strongest defensive outing of the season, statistically speaking, combined with an opportunistic offensive unit, was more than enough to power the locals to a 21-3 decision over the North Bay Bulldogs Saturday in North Bay.
Not only did the victory bump the Jr Spartans up to a 5-2 record in the win-loss column, extending their current winning streak to three games and completing a season sweep of their northern rivals, but it also clinched first place in the North Division of the OPFL, ensuring at least one post-season home game for head coach Reg Bonin and company.
In the spirit of the season-long mantra of simply focusing on the very next task that stands ahead of them, however, the Jr Spartans were pleased, first and foremost, to reverse a troublesome trend early in this contest.
"North Bay started with the ball and for the first time in three games, we did not give up an opening drive touchdown," stated defensive co-ordinator Jordan Desilets. "I kept reiterating it at practice throughout the week."
"The offense had really helped us out, but we've put them a step behind, right out of the gates, the past two games. We really wanted to hold the fort." Though the Bulldogs would capitalize on a home field bounce to secure a 1-0 lead on a rouge, Sudbury was relatively quick to counter.
On the second North Bay possession, Spartans defensive back Carter Will picked off the first of two passes on the day, returning the ball down to the 25 yard line or so, where quarterback Devin Zloty would turn a run outside, weave through traffic and pick up a huge goal line block from Keegan Blais, giving his team a lead they would never surrender.
While the Sudbury defence was giving the Bulldogs precious little to work with, it wasn't until the very last play of the opening half before the visitors would extend their lead, courtesy of a 55 yard TD strike from QB Michael Reich to Blake Ramalho, with Cameron Moxam recording his second conversion of the day.
"I honestly think it was a little bit of an improvisation play," said Desilets. "There may have been some miscommunication, but Blake ran down field and was wide open." With penalties clogging the pace of play in the third quarter, the Jr Spartans added one final score, as Josh Giroux hauled in a pass in the flats from Devin Zloty, darting in from the thirty.
A final late safety, as Sudbury punter Cameron Moxam took a knee in the end zone rather than risk a potentially worse outcome, closed out the contest, which saw the Jr Spartans defence avoid giving up a major thanks to a late fourth and goal stop, deep in their own territory.
"I think that Justin Faucher, Daniel Labelle, T.J. Bertrand, Brett Bond, Deion McGregor and Joss Van den Enden combined for something like five or six sacks," noted Desilets, who was also quite pleased with the work of his men, containing talent North Bay rusher Fisher Bilz, far more often than not.
The Jr Spartans will close out regular season play this coming Saturday (July 13th), hosting the Orangeville Outlaws, with the teams taking to the field at the James Jerome Sports Complex at 1:00 p.m.