By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It truly was, as coach Mark Magee suggested, “an interesting game.”
On a hazy and humid Saturday afternoon at Loyalist Collegiate, the Kingston Grenadiers scored four touchdowns in the first half—and they would have had two more but for turnovers inside the opponent’s 15-yard line—then they didn’t score any more.
It was a contest where the Grenadiers lost their starting tailback, Harry Robinson, their best interior defensive lineman, Jonah Johnson and a veteran linebacker, Cam Hebert, to injury. It was one where, amid all those setbacks, the Grens had to sit defensive end Konner Burtenshaw for virtually all the second half, lest he receive one more penalty that would lead not only to ejection, but suspension for the next game.
Lesser amounts of bad decision making and bad luck have led better teams to worse outcomes than Kingston’s 29-7 Ontario Varsity Football League first round playoff victory over the Oshawa Hawkeyes.
But the Grenadiers are moving on to the Wettges Conference semifinals next weekend in Pickering, against the West Durham Dolphins, simply because of the way they shrugged off setback after setback, regaining their composure and methodically—if unspectacularly—finding ways to build a lead, and then to keep it.
“You know what? We just won a playoff football game against a team that was really big on both sides of the line of scrimmage, pretty athletic, and we did a pretty good job,” Magee said. “I’m really happy with the effort.
“We needed to throw more and do more stuff if it got closer. We could have opened it up again, but you play football games to win them, not just to satisfy the wants of the players and spectators. It’s about managing the game and making sure that you get through it.”
Just as decisively as they denied Oshawa opportunities to get back into the football game, the Grenadiers capitalized on two early gifts the Hawkeyes left on the field. First, Kingston recovered the ball when Oshawa fumbled deep in its own end on its first possession. Two plays later, quarterback Dylan Fisher connected with Carter Matheson for a 19-yard touchdown. The next time Oshawa had the ball, Damon Fair intercepted a Tristan Park pass and returned it 41 yards for Kingston’s second touchdown.
Four and a half minutes into the game, the Grenadiers led 14-0.
“Nothing wrong with scoring early,” Magee said.
The teams then traded turnovers, Fisher throwing an interception at the goal line and then the Grenadiers returning the favour after Oshawa marched to the Kingston 35-yard line. At that point Harry Robinson dashed 74 yards down the right sideline for another Grenadiers touchdown.
Kingston recovered a short kickoff and appeared poised to score again when Robinson, after a nifty move to jump over a would-be tackler, fumbled the ball at the Oshawa 12-yard line. The Hawkeyes again were unable to capitalize and, with just 44 seconds left in the first half, Jeremy Pendergast took a Fisher pass 20 yards for a touchdown that allowed the Grenadiers to go into the break with a 28-0 lead.
“We came out flying,” Magee said. “We dominated. We probably should have scored six times … and been in total control, but at halftime we were just up 28. The problem with a game like that, playing with a lead, especially with young kids, is keeping them focused. There were a lot of smiles at halftime, a lot of happy guys, and games are never over at this level because nobody quits. Everybody keeps playing.
“I knew it would be a game, the coaches knew it would be a game and I think about half the guys on the bench knew it was going to be a game. The other half didn’t, and as a result, maybe we didn’t quite have the same focus in the second half.”
After Mike Bashall kicked a single on the second-half kickoff, Oshawa marched the length of the field to score its first touchdown, on a two-yard run by Dawson Odei.
Though the score would stay that way for the rest of the game, Oshawa had a chance to score again early in the fourth quarter. On a drive that took them about 60 yards to the Kingston five-yard line, a curious series of plays left them turning the ball over at the Grenadiers’ 15.
After Odei, the leading rusher in the conference, got two yards, the Hawkeyes gave the ball to their second-string tailback, who was tackled for a loss. Then followed a quarterback sack and, on fourth down, a team that averaged just 80 yards passing per game this year, again ignored Odei in favour of throwing a pass that fell incomplete at the sideline about 10 yards shy of the end zone.
“I was really glad to see the third quarter flag go down,” Magee said. “I’m thinking, (at that point) they had to score three times in 15 minutes and I just didn’t think they had that capability in their offence.”
Oshawa’s last gasp was snuffed when Wade Zanchetta intercepted a pass near midfield with about nine minutes to play.
It was the fourth of five interceptions on the day for the Grenadiers.
Robinson, who went off the field favouring his left leg in the final minute of the first half, eventually returned to the game in the fourth quarter for the Grenadiers, but Burtenshaw never did.
“Harry probably could have come back (sooner) but I was very careful with him, thinking we did have a lead of four touchdowns,” Magee said. “I wanted to live to fight another day and I want to do that with Harry. I didn’t want him to get hurt maybe more than he was. He’ll have a bunch of rest and he’ll be ready to go (next) Saturday.
“(With Konner), I just said there’s no way we’re going to risk him getting a third penalty and then not having him available for next weekend.”
Robinson finished the game with 165 yards rushing, while Fisher threw for 180 yards, completing 10 of 21 pass attempts. Matheson was the top receiver, with five catches for 116 yards.
It was Kingston’s seventh win in nine games this year.
“We were ready,” Magee said. “We made some good adjustments in practice to what we thought they were going to do. They showed us those things and we made those plays, and that’s what you have to do to be successful.”