By CLAUDE SCILLEY
With two games left in the regular year, the stakes of tomorrow’s Ontario Varsity Football League game are pretty clear for the Kingston Grenadiers.
Without another victory, four wins probably gets them into the playoffs, but may not.
Five wins pretty much guarantees them a spot in the post-season.
Six wins could very well assure them of a home playoff game in the first round.
So, when the Grenadiers take to the Loyalist Collegiate field Saturday afternoon against the Metro Toronto Wildcats, the significance of the game is apparent. That’s one reason why coach Mark Magee hasn’t felt the need to dwell on it this week: no need to re-state the obvious.
The other reason is his wish not to tie his players into a bunch of nervous knots.
“Last week, I told the kids before the (Ottawa) game, don’t let this game define your season,” Magee said. “It’s just another game in the middle of the schedule that we try to win. You have to treat every game the same, come out and play your hardest and execute as best you can … and hopefully at the end of the game if you’ve done all the necessary things right, you come out on the winning side.
“If you over-emphasize things, you may be creating some anxiety in your players. Maybe you make some guys try too hard. I find sometimes that’s a big problem: kids try to do more than they’re supposed to do on any particular play, and as a result things go wrong because they’re trying to do somebody else’s job, rather than just their own.
“It’s just another game. We need to win it.”
Metro, which lost its first game this year, has won five in a row since then and sits one game ahead of Kingston, 4-2 after a 42-14 loss to Ottawa last week ended a four-game winning streak. Ottawa leads the conference at 5-0; in between is West Durham, at 4-1.
Metro, Magee said, plays a game similar to Ottawa.
“They have big fronts,” he said. “Their offensive line is big like Myers, maybe not as athletic, and they play a 30 defence for the most part, a three-man down line, and you don’t see that very often so it’s difficult to play against.
“They have a good group of athletes on defence; they all seem to run well. Even their big guy in the middle, who looks to be about 300 pounds, he runs well for a big kid. They’re very well coached. They do things on defence a lot of teams don’t do. There will be challenges that way. Their front’s pretty active and they blitz a lot. There’s definitely some thinking going on with their blitzes. The big guy in the middle is going to cause us problems, because you can’t really move him.
“There’s things we can do. It depends on how well we can do them. They do some things very well … but if we execute the way we’re capable of, we should be able to have some success.”
Metro’s premier player, receiver Yivel Pinto, comes into the game with some impressive statistics. He’s caught a league-leading 33 passes for 612 yards—second most in the league—and eight touchdowns, and he averages better than 28 yards per punt return, most in the league among players with nine or more returns.
“He makes plays,” Magee said. “He’s a fifth-year guy, very athletic, who catches the ball well. He can run and read gaps and next thing you know, he’s gone.
“We’ve got to really do a job on this guy. If we can contain him and keep him off the scoreboard, things will be better for us.”
Magee expects to have defensive end Konner Burtenshaw back in the lineup Saturday, but the Grenadiers will be without Jonah Johnson, one of the premier linemen in the league. Both players were hurt in the game against Ottawa last week.
It’s the second time in three games that the Grens have had to make do without one or more key players on defence, but the team is adapting well, Magee said.
“Some other guys are starting to step up and produce a little more, which is what they need to do,” he said. “Sometimes that’s just a product of being on the field and actually getting a chance.
“We’re getting a little bit better, overall, with all the players. There’s not such a discrepancy from top to bottom. It’s encouraging. The kids have worked hard. It’s a younger team, there’s not a lot of older guys on it, and it’s a high level of football. You have to be ready to go and some guys aren’t ready when they’re in Grade 11 and they’re playing against kids who are a couple of years older.
“It’s definitely a learning curve for a lot of players but as a group, you can see kids starting to understand and get things.”
The Wildcats, who come to town having allowed just 20 points in their last four games, will have some familiar faces on the sidelines Saturday. Among the coaches are former Queen’s Golden Gaels Aaron Gazendam, Nick Nucci and Sam Sabourin.
Game time Saturday is 4 p.m., after the junior varsity Grenadiers, 2-3, try to end a two-game losing streak against winless Metro Toronto in a game scheduled for 1 o’clock.