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Panthers prevail over pesky Eagles

October 31, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

People may have been surprised at the performance of the Ernestown Eagles Thursday afternoon.

Ryan Poser wasn’t one of them.

“We had a pretty close game against Ernestown at the beginning of the year,” the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers coach said after his team defeated the Eagles 24-20 in a Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior AAA football semifinal.

“They have a quality player in (Konner Burtenshaw) that we were pretty certain was going to give us a hard time.”

Indeed, in the game at Regi’s Brother O’Gara Field, Burtenshaw did give the Panthers a hard time.

In a game where Ernestown scored first and the lead changed hands four times after that, Burtenshaw carried the ball 18 times for 166 yards—181 until he lost 15 yards desperately trying to find an opening on the final play of the game.

He scored a touchdown; he gained first down on a direct snap on a fake punt, keeping alive a drive that led to the game’s first score, and he returned a punt 30 yards to start a drive that ended with a field goal that gave Ernestown a 20-17 lead with six minutes left in the game.

Burtenshaw gained six of his team’s nine first downs and did so on an afternoon when the Eagles presented not a lot of surprises, since they didn’t attempt a single pass.

More impressive than Burtenshaw’s performance, however, was the resiliency the Panthers showed all day, but especially in response to that go-ahead field goal. It took Regi just four plays to cover the 55 yards required to score a Jordan Pringle touchdown that produced the eventual winning points.

Pringle caught two Quinton Auty passes in the drive, one of 35 yards and the other of 13 yards for the score.

Ernestown had the ball twice after that; one drive ended with a tackle behind the line of scrimmage by Bryant Bishop on third-and-five; the other, which started from Ernestown’s 27-yard line with 59 seconds to play, got as far as the Eagles’ 50 before Burtenshaw was forced back and chased out of bounds on another third-down attempt.

It was not the first time the Regi defence came up big. Three times in the ball game the Panthers fumbled a punt, but all the Eagles could generate from the three turnovers was a solitary field goal.

“We really shot ourselves in the foot by losing field position,” Poser said. “Because Jordan Pringle is such a good punter, if we are stopped, it’s not the end of the world. We can punt the ball away and switch positions on the field and keep going but in those situations we were giving Ernestown the ball in a fairly dangerous position. Defensively, we stood strong.”

Because Regi fumbled Ernestown’s first two punts, by the time Jake Dawson made his 36-yard kick at 9:18 of the first quarter, the Panthers had run just two offensive plays. The Panthers didn’t make first down until about five minutes into the second quarter and they didn’t score until the game’s 20th minute, when Matteo Coimbra rushed for a five-yard TD.

Ernestown then exhausted most of what was left in the first half on a drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown run by Aidan Erkan. The Eagles, 2-4 in the regular year and the fourth seed entering the AAA playoffs, led 10-7 at the intermission.

A 35-yard pass from Auty to Pringle was the big play of Regi’s opening drive of the second half and Coimbra’s second five-yard TD run gave the home team a 14-10 lead. A 28-yard field goal by Nick Carriere gave Regi a 17-10 lead late in the period but on the very next play, Burtenshaw went 75 yards, jumping over would-be tacklers, dodging others and shedding those who got a hand on him on his way down the right sideline for a touchdown that tied the game.

Regi was then two-and-out and Ernestown, with Spencer Giffin doing the heaving lifting and an unnecessary roughness penalty on impromptu fake punt prolonging the drive, got as far as the Panthers’ 12-yard line before settling for Dawson’s second field goal of the game.

Regi answered quickly, getting two long completions on second down of the game-winning drive.

“We’ve been a pretty quick-strike offence all year,” Poser said. “We’ve done well with the long ball, and Jordan Pringle plays exceptionally well. He can track down a ball in the air and he can out-jump anybody. Getting a couple of long passes to him is kind of par for the course. It’s how our offence is set up.

“Our quarterback is growing in confidence every day and we’ve got a veteran offensive line that gives him a lot of time. When he stays in the pocket and just throws the ball he’s a pretty dangerous kid.”

Though the Panthers, the top-seeded AAA team whose 4-2 record included a season-opening 9-7 win over the Eagles, could never put the visitors away, Poser said he had faith his players would always “come back and compete.”

“We were shooting ourselves in the foot early in the game by fumbling the ball but we regrouped in the second half and didn’t make the same mistakes.

“We had good composure. We didn’t panic in the end. There wasn’t any finger pointing in any way, and the maturity of the team allowed it to stay together. We could have easily pointed the finger at fumbles on special teams, or missed tackles defensively, or some incomplete balls but the team rallies together. It’s kind of next man up.”

Nikolas Daniele-Reyes compensated for a couple of fumbled punts with some terrific rushes. He finished the day with 11 carries for 96 yards. Auty completed six of 10 passes for 140 yards; four of them, covering 89 yards, to Pringle.

The Panthers will meet the defending champion Frontenac Falcons for the county senior championship Nov. 8 at Richardson Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Holy Cross Crusaders 38-16 in Thursday’s other semifinal.

As the only association in EOSSA with triple-A schools, KASSAA will send its champion directly to a provincial bowl game, against the Toronto District champion, Nov. 26 at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium.

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