By CLAUDE SCILLEY
So let’s get this straight.
You go on the road, it’s pouring rain, and you’re playing a team that won its last game 49-0.
You throw five interceptions, and your collective rushing game goes one yard backwards.
And you won?
Unlikely as it might be in the shadow of those numbers, the Kingston Grenadiers did, indeed, win their Ontario Varsity Football League game in Cumberland Saturday night, 8-7 over the Panthers.
A punt single by Mike Bashall in overtime was the decisive point in a game that evened the Grenadiers’ record at 1-1.
“It was a defensive day,” Grenadiers coach Mark Magee said. “In a game like this if you don’t have good defence you’re not going to win and I thought our defence played outstanding.”
Magee described his team’s defensive performance as "100 per cent better" than it was the previous week, in a 28-27 loss to West Durham.
“We were so much more aggressive,” he said. “We tackled so much better, our coverage was spot-on … the guys played very tough all day. The quarterback for Cumberland the week before was a scrambler; he made some huge plays running the ball. I don’t think he ever got a first down on a run. He had a couple of runs, but we hit him hard.
“Having said all that, we made plays when we had to make some plays.”
The Grenadiers recovered a short opening kickoff and though they didn’t move the ball, they pinned Cumberland deep with a punt and when the Panthers were unable to advance, Kingston got the ball back in good field position. This time, quarterback Dylan Fisher connected with Jeremy Pendergast on a touchdown pass that put the visitors ahead 7-0.
Again Kingston recovered a short kickoff, and though the Grenadiers couldn’t do anything with it, it was an important play, Magee said.
“We kind of hemmed them in the whole first half because the defence played very well,” he said. “In conditions like that it’s very difficult to throw, so you can really focus on the run.”
Cumberland scored on its first possession of the second half and the game descended into a slog, as both teams had difficulty moving the football in what was at times a driving rain.
“We were outweighed significantly in the trench area,” Magee said. “Our offensive line, per man, was probably outweighed by 30 pounds on the front unit, so it was very difficult to push them around, but we were able to pass block.”
Though Fisher threw five interceptions, Magee said only one of them was “a bad one.”
“They were through hands, off hands, tipped—and there’d be a guy standing 10 yards away and he’d pick it off,” Magee said. “It looked more like volleyball, rather than clean football plays.”
Despite the interceptions, the turnover battle probably favoured the Grenadiers, as Kingston had three interceptions and Cumberland fumbled twice, each of which was critical to the game’s outcome.
The first came with about six minutes to go in the game. Cumberland appeared poised to take a 14-7 lead when they fumbled on the Grenadiers’ two-yard line. On the first possession of overtime, the Panthers were again inside the Kingston five-yard line when a snap was botched and Kingston again recovered the loose football.
On its overtime possssion, the Grenadiers promptly went offside on consecutive plays, before Fisher and Carter Matheson connected on two passes that moved the football to the Cumberland five.
“I elected right away to send the guys out, get it over with,” Magee said, and though Bashall couldn’t punt the ball through the end zone, he did get it to the dead-ball line, where the Panthers return man was immediately taken to the ground.
“The best part was, when we were on offence, coach (Ryan) Miles on the defence had talked about what we were going to do if we had a chance to punt for a single, so we were well prepared for it.”
Magee said it was “a real gutsy effort.”
“It was one of those deals where the defence said, ‘You know, coach, it’s going to be tough for our guys; we’re small, but we’re going to keep you in there.’ They said they were going to win us the game. They played really, really hard and we did enough to get the win.
“It was one of those games where you never thought you were going to lose it, because it seemed you were always just a play away. (Cumberland) is a great team, so it’s not like it was going to be a cakewalk, but we deserved it. We won on the road, on a grass field, where it rained 90 per cent of the game, (and) it was a good one to win because if you go 0-2, you really get yourself into trouble in terms of a playoff position.”
Fisher finished the game 11-for-36 for 177 yards. Pendergast caught four balls for 88 yards and Matheson gained 50 yards from his three receptions.
Caedan Saulnier had both fumble recoveries for the Grenadiers, and one of the three interceptions.
The Grenadiers resume play Saturday in Cornwall, where the Wildcats are off to an 0-2 start.