By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It wasn’t exactly what the Kingston Grenadiers had planned for their football game Saturday night, but if the guy who started the year as the team's No. 3 running back is going to rush for more than 200 yards, well, fine. They’ll take it.
With Calvin deFayette injured on his first carry of the Grenadiers’ Ontario Versity Football League game in Markham, and Konner Burtenshaw serving a one-game suspension, the Grens turned to Trenton’s Riley Avery. He responded with a 211-yard rushing performance that included five touchdowns as Kingston defeated the Markham Raiders 44-28.
It was the fourth win in a row for the Grenadiers, 4-1, who travel to Ottawa Saturday to face the undefeated Myers Riders.
Saturday’s game in Markham was the second time in eight days that Kingston got a career game from its tailback. DeFayette, who took over when Burtenshaw was moved to linebacker fulltime a week ago, rushed for 209 yards against York-Simcoe, and now Avery has created a dilemma for the coaching staff when everyone is available again.
“He’s just a good back,” Grenadiers coach Mark Magee said. “He has great hands and runs great routes in the passing game. He’s a strong kid, tough to tackle. He runs hard. He moves his feet and never stops going.”
The Grenadiers have now had 100-yard games from three different backs in five games this season—Burtenshaw rushed for 125 yards in the season opener—and while the ball carriers may be proving to be interchangeable, there is one constant: the offensive line.
This is particularly interesting because at the beginning of the year, that was one element of the team whose potential was in doubt, dubiety that seemed to be confirmed in Week 2, when the Grenadiers’ collective ground game went two yards backwards.
That, it seems, was then.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Magee said. “They’re not the biggest group of guys but they work hard in practice with their coaches, Marc Gagnon and Nolan McGreer, and they’re understanding the concept of getting bodies on bodies and working hard.
“When they’re doing that we seem to be able to create some running lanes.”
The Grenadiers started Saturday’s game slowly. “We weren’t doing anything particularly well, anywhere,” Magee said. Neither team was able to score until Kingston’s Lance Cellini intercepted a Markham pass near the Raiders’ 40-yard line, one of two picks he had in the game. The Grenadiers turned it into a touchdown and not long after that, Mike Bashall kicked a 25-yard field goal.
Kingston led 10-7 going into the closing minutes of the first half. After scoring their second touchdown, the Grenadiers immediately regained possession when Jeremy Pendergast tipped the ball out of bounds on a short kickoff. Kingston scored on that drive, too, and the Grens were poised to take momentum and a 24-7 lead into halftime, but Markham took just three plays to score before the half ended.
Another touchdown early in the third quarter lifted the winless Raiders to within three points of the lead at 24-21.
At that point, Magee said, Kingston’s offensive line “took over the game” and the Grenadiers, who had averaged less than 22 points per game through the first half of the season, went on to have their best offensive day of the year.
Avery scored his touchdowns on runs of one, one, three, 10 and five yards. Kingston’s other major came from Carter Matheson, on a 33-yard pass from quarterback Dylan Fisher.
Fisher, who completed 10 of 19 passes to six different receivers for 154 yards, had a streaky day, completing just two of seven attempts at one point but then five in a row at another. Matheson had three catches for a season-best 94 yards.
As for two other areas of concern entering the game—backups in the middle linebacking spots vacated by the suspended Burtenshaw and Spencer Giffin, and whether the team would replicate its undisciplined 230-yard penalty game of a week ago—the Grenadiers got passing marks in both, Magee said.
“The defence was shorthanded and some young guys stepped up there,” he said. “They did all right; they were really game. (Markham) didn’t run the ball well on us and they tried to do a lot of throwing but we covered the pass not too bad. There were a few glitches, but we were OK.
“The defensive line played well again and we were much better in the penalty end of the game.”
The easy part of their schedule now over—three of Kingston’s four wins have come against Cornwall, York-Simcoe and now Markham, teams that haven’t beaten anybody this year—the Grenadiers head into the closing three weeks of the season in a tie for second place in the Wettges Conference with the Metro Toronto Wildcats.
“(Saturday’s win) was a credit to the kids for working hard,” Magee said. “It’s a long bus ride, it was a late start, we had a delay (of about an hour, due to a Markham injury) in the game … it was just a good win to have.”