By CLAUDE SCILLEY
When Curtis Finkeldey scored a touchdown, giving his team a 14-point lead with less than four minutes to play Saturday afternoon, many people present believed he had provided his team with the score that would clinch a victory.
Instead, he could well have provided the impetus for the Kingston Grenadiers to come back and steal it.
There were few other explanations for the striking emergence of a Grenadiers team that had been not playing well, to one that would arise to claim a 36-35 overtime victory over the Toronto Thunder in a game at Loyalist Collegiate.
Kingston’s sixth win in eight games this year assured the Grenadiers they will host a playoff game. Whether they will finish second or third will be determined next week, when they enjoy a bye while the rest of the league finishes what’s left of their Ontario Varsity Football League schedules.
The play that stirred the slumbering Grenadiers Saturday came with 11 minutes played in the fourth quarter. After leaving a Kingston defender in his wake near the five-yard line, Finkeldey could have walked into the end zone with a score that would have given the Thunder a 15-point lead, 29-14, and doubtless taken whatever breath remained in the home team.
Instead, he chose to dance along the goal line, from the right sideline to near the goalposts, before he stepped into the end zone after catching sight of a Kingston player charging fast from his left with designs of putting him somewhere in the middle of Machar Place, beyond the trees past the end of the west end zone at LC.
For Finkeldey, it was not a good choice. Ultimately he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his showmanship—one of five his team would receive in the second half—but that was the least of the Thunder’s worries. His display lit a fire under a moribund Kingston team, which proceeded to score 14 points in the final 3 minutes and 41 seconds of the game to force overtime, and win it when Mike Bashall successfully converted a touchdown by Harry Robinson.
Grenadiers quarterback Dylan Fisher acknowledged that the showboating on the Thunder’s final touchdown was, well, discussed on the Kingston sideline. “Yeah,” he said with a grin. “A little bit.”
“It definitely gets you fired up,” he said. “You don’t like that to ever happen against you, so, yeah, it gets you juiced.”
Grenadiers defensive back Lance Cellini agreed.
“It got us angry, turned us on,” he said. “We were a little flat at point but as soon as he started showboating, it got us right into it, got us fired up.
“It got everyone going.”
The result was play so inspired, so much better than it had been to that point, that in four brilliant minutes the Grenadiers were able to overcome 56 minutes of less-than-spirited play.
On the possession following Finkeldey’s touchdown, the Grenadiers needed about a minute and a half to score. A 40-yard pass completion from Fisher to Carter Matheson set Kingston up on the Toronto one-yard line, from where Harry Robinson carried over for the score.
The Grenadiers defence held on the Thunder’s subsequent possession, and Fisher marched Kingston from his own 40-yard line, completing consecutive passes to Jeremy Pendergast, Jake Magee and Pendergast again to get to the Toronto 25. From there, three plays later, Fisher found Denver Stephens in the end zone, where he made a fine catch for the game-tying major with 15.7 seconds left.
In overtime, Toronto got to the Kingston eight-yard line before the Grenadiers defence stiffened. A pass interference call on third down gave the Thunder first down on the one, but twice Kingston denied a Toronto ball carrier the end zone, before Jhovan McPherson came off the bench finally to punch it in.
Critically, the convert attempt was tipped and sent awry by a diving Robinson, giving the Grenadiers a chance to win the game outright on their possession, and that’s what they did.
Robinson carried 14 yards on Kingston’s first play, then Toronto was flagged again for objectionable conduct. An eight-yard run by Robinson and an offside penalty put the Grenadiers on the Toronto five-yard line. Robinson carried in from there, and Bashall’s convert produced the victory.
“We just needed a couple of big plays to get us going,” Fisher said. “We got some stops on defence and we started moving the ball.”
Fisher, bound this fall for St. Francis Xavier University, said the foundation of the comeback was simple: “More heart,” he said.
“We started executing everything how we wanted. Everybody was more juiced and ready to go; ready to hit somebody.”
Cellini said the team came out flat—“we’ve got to stop doing that”—but by the end of the game was playing with the requisite intensity.
“Early in the game they were slicing us up with the run. That was a big problem, but we got right into it,” he said. “We expected them to pass a little bit more at the start but they just ran and ran and ran. We cut our mistakes, changed some of the play calls, had guys in the right spots, and started making plays.”
Execution was the key element of the game for Magee, who at times in the first half perhaps may have been in favour of it.
“We were missing assignments, we ran some wrong routes, we missed some throws, we missed some tackles; it just wasn’t good, fundamentally sound football,” he said. As a result, a Toronto team that came into the game 2-4 was in control of it almost throughout.
“The message had been, leading up to this game, that these guys were a lot better than people were giving them credit for. At halftime, I reminded them (of that) and they came out in good spirits. They were in a good mindset in terms of wanting to get out there and make plays.”
Magee believes his team began to play better at that point. “It really didn’t show until the end, but we did play better,” he said.
“You have to give (Toronto) credit; they’ve got a whole bunch of really good athletes, especially on their defensive front. They are relentless with their pressure. It was tough for our guys to block.
“In the end, they were on the field a long time, I think fatigue factored in, because we started to run the ball successfully. That’s what won us the game, running the football.”
Indeed, in the game-winning overtime drive, the Grenadiers didn’t attempt a pass.
Meanwhile, the Thunder, which had been successfully employing a straight-ahead running attack throughout the game, almost inexplicably started throwing the football as the game drew to a close.
“I thought they were going to come out and keep on pounding us,” Magee said, “but I think they had a couple of injuries on their offensive line. When that happens it makes it tough when you get second guys in there who maybe aren’t as experienced or are a little bit younger, and they don’t do the same kind of job.”
The Grenadiers opened the game smartly, scoring just 90 seconds in when Fisher and Matheson connected for a touchdown pass of about 35 yards. A single on the subsequent kickoff by Bashall gave the Grenadiers a point that later would prove vital.
After a 50-yard punt return by Antoine Lyte-Myers shortly thereafter set Toronto up on the Kingston 35-yard line, a pass from Alex Purvis to Justice Johnson took the ball to the one, from where McPherson scored. In the second quarter Purvis and Daynar Facey connected for a 10-yard TD pass that sent the Thunder into halftime with a 14-8 lead.
A 70-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter by Andre Goulbourn was followed by a run for a two-point convert by Finkeldey and the visitors led 22-8.
Kingston’s offence was unable to get out of its own tracks until the Grenadiers defence came to life late in the fourth quarter. Toronto appeared to be stopped when a third-down pass from its own end zone fell incomplete, but the Grens were called for roughing the passer. The Thunder squandered the opportunity, however, by fumbling a toss. Konner Burtenshaw recovered at the Toronto 24 with 10:35 to play.
From there, Robinson carried twice, the second for 21 yards and a touchdown, cutting Kingston’s deficit to seven points, but, on third-and-nine, Purvis completed the fateful pass to Finkeldey that should have extinguished Kingston’s hope for victory, but instead fanned a faint spark into a game-winning fire.
“The message we try to give our guys,” Magee said, “is just to play and not talk to the other team, not be demonstrative on the field or show emotion (to the point) where you’re putting the other team down or doing things to rile them up a little bit.
“I’m a firm believer in not doing that stuff because it usually works against you.”
Fisher finished the game with 21 completions from 41 pass attempts, for two touchdowns but two interceptions. Matheson had eight catches for 144 yards, while Robinson rushed 11 times for 70 yards.