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La Salle denies Bayridge comback; qualifies for AA football final

October 29, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It’s probably not surprising that the top two teams in the league during the regular year will meet for the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior AA football championship Saturday at Richardson Stadium.

In a game of two halves Tuesday, the La Salle Black Knights’ first-half performance proved to be too much for even the spirited comeback mounted by the Bayridge Blazers, who ultimately dropped a 31-20 decision in the AA semifinal match Tuesday afternoon at La Salle’s Berk Brean Field.

The Knights, 5-1 in the regular season, will meet the Sydenham Golden Eagles, 6-0, in Saturday’s final at 1:30 p.m. at Richardson Stadium. When the teams met in Sydenham in the Bubba Bowl on Oct. 9, the Eagles’ 28-21 victory proved to be the only blemish on La Salle’s record.

Playing on a cloudy but unseasonably warm day Tuesday, La Salle appeared poised to put a whipping on the Blazers who, beset by injuries, had just 21 players dressed for the contest. Knights quarterback Mitch Dowd completed his first five passes—and eight of his first nine attempts—as the Knights built a 24-0 lead at halftime.

La Salle was both methodical and opportune. After the Knights got a 39-yard field goal by Isaac Hetherington on their first possession, they executed a seven-play, 77-yard drive on their next series, capped by an eight-yard touchdown run by Elias Pickell.

With the La Salle defence playing superbly—in the Blazers’ first five possessions, they managed just one first down—the Knights started consecutive series inside the Bayridge 30-yard line late in the second quarter and they scored a touchdown each time, less than three minutes apart. The first came on a seven-yard run by Tim Wight, the second on a one-yard run by Pickell.

Lightning struck the Knights when Bayridge quarterback Jordan Fehr conncted with John Harper for an 85-yard TD pass on the second play of the second half, but the Knights answered two plays later when Dowd and Shawn Miller completed a 55-yard touchdown pass of their own.

With a 31-6 lead and the Blazers’ short bench, it looked like La Salle would complete an easy romp but Bayridge was having none of that. The Blazers blocked a 20-yard field goal attempt the next time La Salle had the ball and on the very next play, Fehr and Cole Casford combined for a 90-yard touchdown with two and a half minutes left in the third quarter.

Momentum had clearly shifted when Harper intercepted a pass on La Salle’s next play, but Bayridge couldn’t convert. Neither could La Salle, however, and, despite starting on their own 15-yard line, the Blazers moved down the field. The big play was a 42-yard run by tackle Adam Vanderlaan and Fehr capped the 95-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.

Now Bayridge trailed by just 11 points and things were looking promising when Harper intercepted his second pass and returned it about 15 yards to the La Salle 21-yard line. The Blazers couldn’t capitalize, however, opting to try a hook-and-ladder pass on third-and-10 that came up three yards short of a first down.

Neither team could move the football in the final four minutes of the game.

“When our starters were in there I thought we controlled the game and did what we wanted to do,” said La Salle coach Reuben Brunet, whose team substituted freely on defence in the final period and a half. “I give credit to Bayridge. They didn’t quit and they made a couple of big plays on us.”

Brunet said that even in retrospect he wouldn’t have played it any differently in the second half.

“How do you get better? You’ve got to let your younger guys get out there and try to play,” he said. “When we got some of our younger guys on the field we broke down a little bit (but) it was good for them to get on the field and experience that. It’s good for them to learn that you have to continue to play against every team, because (the Blazers) were not quitting. They have Grade 12 or fifth-year kids there who are not going to play football again. You know they’re going to play full out, so you have to match that intensity. A couple of our Grade 11 guys didn’t take that to heart and made some mistakes.”

Dowd had a fine game for La Salle, finishing 11-for-16 for 183 yards, though he threw two interceptions. Miller caught four balls for 112 yards.

For the most part Bayridge contained La Salle’s tough running back, Wight, who carried eight times for 35 yards but gained two yards or less on half of his rushes.

“I didn’t give him the ball much,” Brunet said. “I didn’t want to break him, because Sydenham’s going to focus on him, too. He’s a stud.”

In scoring 20 points, Bayridge not only exceeded its single-game best this year, but finished with three more points than it had scored altogether in six regular-season games. In their previous meeting, the Blazers lost 22-0 to La Salle at home a week and a half ago.

“We’ve always had it in there,” coach Mike McCourt said. “It seems like we’ve had unforced errors and mental things that have killed drives.

“When we played La Salle last time, we were in the red zone five times and we couldn’t put it in, so we walked away from that game thinking that they were a beatable team. We were just beating ourselves. It was bad snaps, we couldn’t hand the ball off on runs; everything was disjointed.”

McCourt reminded his players of that at halftime and they responded, particularly the players on defence.

“Maybe they were playing looser in the second half,” McCourt said.

“When we played them last time we had a defensive player injured and we had another fellow away for the weekend. Two starters. We had those guys (back today) and we had a couple of offensive guys that we brought over who are just good athletes. We were going to get our best kids on the field and see what happens. I think we strengthened our defence that way. They exposed us a little bit on the outside, with those short passes, getting around the edge, but … the interior line play was stronger.”

The strong second half flew in the face of what you might expect of a team down 25 points early in the second half, playing on the other team’s field with a short bench.

“We knew from the beginning that we had good athletes,” said McCourt, who began the year with a roster of 32, “we just didn’t have a lot of them. We knew if we could get it together, these guys could perform.”

Fehr finished the game 10-for-23 for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Knights had seven catches, six of them in the second half. The Blazers’ Achilles heel was their running game. They managed just 64 yards on the ground, 42 of them coming on the trick play with the lineman Vanderlaan.

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