There were some questions as the St Benedict Bears struggled to find their rhythm in the opening few weeks of the SDSSAA senior boys football schedule.
By the time post-season play rolled around, the pre-season favourites had all of the answers.
In manhandling the St Charles College Cardinals 28-0 in the city final on Friday, the Bears not only managed to play up to, and perhaps beyond, the projections for the talented crew, but also culminated a playoff sweep of a pair of opponents by a combined score of 56-0.
“We were just out-manned on both sides of the line of scrimmage – that was a well deserved victory,” Cardinals coach Rob Zanatta noted graciously in defeat.
Much as they did in a semi-final victory, by the identical 28-0 score, over the Lo-Ellen Park Knights one week earlier, the St Benedict lads left nothing to chance in the search for the banner that has just barely eluded them in recent years.
Running back Tanner Pattison opened the scoring with a two yard TD run, late in the first quarter, and Zach Primeau doubled the advantage, hauling in an 18 yard pass from QB Adam Rocha on the final play of the period, as kicker Gabriel Campagnaro made good on both point after attempts.
Balancing their offense quite effectively, the Bears got another major from Pattison (one yard run) in quarter two, with Ben Cacciotti closing things off, also on the ground, from five yards out, midway through the third quarter.
Still, St Benedict coach Junior Labrosse was not about to let his guard down. “As a coach, I’ve been in games where you think you have it and all of a sudden, something different happens and you end up losing it,” he said. “To say I was comfortable and felt that the game was in the bag, I never got that feeling.”
“We saw St Charles the previous week come from behind at half-time. I just made sure the boys played four quarters of football.” That they did, with near equal brilliance on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve had solid performances from the defence year round,” said Labrosse. “Every game, the defence has given us plenty of opportunities, consistently getting the other team three and out. Offensively, I think we started started to click more after the Lo-Ellen game, learned to be more patient.”
“I think the offensive players sometimes feel that they have to score every time they touch the ball. Then when sometimes in doesn’t go their way, they feel that extra pressure and then things can snowball. It wasn’t like that on Friday. Everybody did their job.”
If St Charles was to give St Benedict a run for their money, it was clear to most everyone that the key would be to establish the run game, something that Labrosse and company prepared for, as best they could.
“We studied film,” said Labrosse. “We learned their tendencies. They’re a downhill running team. We had to make sure to tackle well, and if you’re going to make a play, make it at full speed.”
As usual, it was all hands on deck for both sides, even if that meant a little extra duty for defensive stalwart Ben Cacciotti, who has enjoyed the chance to carry the ball as crunch time came for the Bears.
“Basically, they were stacking the box, so we decided to go with our big guys versus your big guys,” said Labrosse. “Ben blocked well for Tanner in the backfield, but this was a part of the game plan that we decided we might need at some point, and it panned out.”
Labrosse and company will now prepare to face the West Ferris Trojans in the NOSSA semi-final next weekend. “I know North Bay was at our game filming and scouting,” noted the coach. “But this group is a very focused set of young men. They have now accomplished goal one – now they are working towards goal two.”
Meanwhile, the St Charles College juniors will represent Sudbury in the NOSSA final, blitzing the Lively Hawks by a final score of 42-20. “Our group has a lot of tremendous natural athletes who take football very seriously,” noted first year head coach Casey Thompson. “Our core players really care, they make sure that everyone is buying in.”
Playing quarterback for the very first time after suiting up at linebacker last fall, Josh Morin ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more, with Josh Guignard and Tyrese Brown on the receiving end. Sudbury Jr Spartans standout Blake Ramalho rounded out the scoring for the Cardinals.
“You know that Lively is always going to be well-coached with Reg (Bonin) there – we respect him a great deal," added Thompson. “We knew they would be well-prepared, but we had total confidence that our boys could get the job done. And my coaching staff made my job easy.”
In addition to featuring former St Charles all-stars Nathan Scruton (offensive co-ordinator) and Erik Greene (defensive co-ordinator) on staff, the SCC sideline crew also included Laurentian students Stephane Jean and Zach Maurice.
The Cardinals will now play the Superior Heights Steelhawks from Sault Ste Marie next Saturday at James Jerome, with northern Ontario junior football bragging rights on the line. “The goal for our kids, right from the beginning, was to win the city championship, and win NOSSA,” stated Thompson.
“It wasn’t just to win the cities.”