By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Kingston Grenadiers will play for the Wettges Conference championship this week, and they can thank their defence for the opportunity.
The Grenadiers allowed no touchdowns and a season-low three points Saturday, as Kingston defeated the West Durham Dolphins 14-3 in an Ontario Varsity Football League conference semifinal in Pickering.
The win, Kingston’s eighth in 10 games this year—and their fourth in a row—sends the Grenadiers into the conference final, against the Ottawa Myers Riders. The Riders, leading just 2-0 at halftime, went on to defeat the Cumberland Panthers 34-0 Sunday afternoon in the other semifinal.
Such was the defensive prowess displayed by the Grenadiers Saturday that Kingston was able to win the football game, despite going five yards backwards in 23 rushing attempts.
There were some fine individual plays—interceptions by Caedan Saulnier and William Keneford, two quarterback sacks by Konner Burtenshaw and two passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage by Cam Hebert—but the performance, coach Mark Magee said, was better characterized by its collective effort.
“For the most part, it was just a good day. We played a really steady game,” Magee said. “Coach (Rick) Miles had a good plan for them, and the kids executed it well. Their biggest play from scrimmage was a quarterback run. We knew they had a lot of good athletes so we made sure we had guys taken away. The line play was outstanding … we just seemed always to be in the right spot, and they battled like crazy.
“The coverage was outstanding; we didn’t have any breakdowns in coverage, we had guys where they needed to be. We shut down their running back, who is very good. It was one of those games where, as close at it was, score-wise, I never felt like we were really in trouble. I thought we were in control of the football game just by how we were going.”
The Grenadiers were playing without defensive tackle Jonah Johnson, who had surgery last week to repair a torn bicep.
“The guys rallied,” Magee said. “It was just an outstanding game from our defence. The guys came to play.”
It also wasn’t a shabby day for the Pickering defence, which allowed Kingston just one touchdown, a third-quarter score by Nik Daniele on a 25-yard pass from Dylan Fisher. That came after the Grenadiers had built a 7-0 halftime lead on field goals of 35 and 31 yards by Mike Bashall, and a single point from another field goal attempt that he missed.
Tailback Harry Robinson had 15 yards from his 19 carries and, in all, Kingston ball carriers were stopped behind the line of scrimmage eight times in their 23 rushes.
Though Magee said the Grenadiers understood they had in store a difficult day—“their defensive front is very good; their linebacking corps is outstanding”—he got a better grasp of the challenge they’d overcome after the game.
“You don’t realize they’re that big on the field,” he said of the opponents. “You see them out there but then you walk through, shaking hands, and you’re looking up at this one kid, he was probably 6-3, 6-4, and you see how wide he is and how strong he is and you know how he runs on the field. He looks like Anthony Spencer of the Cowboys; it’s no wonder our guys couldn’t block him. We don’t have that kind of athlete on the offensive line.
“A couple of their tackles inside, geez, the kids are 250, 260 pounds and they’re athletic. It’s not that they’re just fat kids; they’re wide and they’re thick but they can run and they’re aggressive as hell. My starting left guard is 205, and you’re asking him to try and block somebody? Yeah, you can go hit him, but you’re not moving him.”
In any case, Magee said Robinson’s biggest contribution to the game came not as a runner, but on a play where he suddenly turned defender.
It was a sequence in the second quarter, with Kingston leading 6-0. The Grenadiers were first-and-goal from the West Durham one-yard line, and failed to score. It was a potentially devastating turn of events, but an interception followed three plays later and suddenly Kingston was back in business at the Dolphins’ 35-yard line.
Robinson fumbled, and West Durham recovered the football. Instead of giving up on the play, however, he got up and caught the Dolphin around the 45. The Grenadiers’ defence prevented West Durham from gaining a first down, and ultimately Bashall’s rouge ensued.
“I could have called a couple of different things in there,” said Magee, who opted to try for the touchdown on fourth and goal, instead of a field goal that would have produced a 9-0 lead. “We talked about what we’d do in that situation but I went away from it, based on what we’d seen (to that point in the game).
“We tried a few things and they didn’t work, but the bottom line is even though we didn’t score there, it didn’t really affect us. It didn’t change anything.”
Grenadiers quarterback Fisher completed 12 of 26 passes to six different receivers for 218 yards, with the touchdown but two interceptions. Robinson caught four balls for 49 yards, while Daniele ended the game with three receptions for 64 yards.
“I felt the score flattered them in a way,” Magee said. “We missed some shots, where we had guys open for scores. That’s the nature of the game but it could have been easily been 28-3 or 35-3 when I look at it.”
He said he couldn’t have asked for a better performance from his players, who not only performed well, he said, but appeared to enjoy themselves while doing so.
“They were confident, having fun, laughing on the sidelines … they were loose,” he said. “It was fun to watch.”