By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Dillon Wisteard this week prepared to play his last football game—for the 10th time this year.
“I go in thinking every game is going to be my last game,” Wisteard said. “That gets me get fired up, thinking that I want to win, because I want to keep going, especially this year. This is my last year of football. I just say every game could be my last.”
Wisteard has graduated from Frontenac Secondary School, where teams of which he was a member were perennial champions, and he’s approaching the Ontario Varsity Football League’s Wettges Conference final in his third and final season as a member of the Kingston Grenadiers hoping to win one there, too, before he’s done.
Invaluable to the Grenadiers as a defensive lineman and a fullback, he’s described by his coach, Mark Magee, as an intelligent ball player, but Wisteard isn’t big by university standards, for either position. “I wanted to (go to university),” he said. “I got into a couple of schools but no one ever really recruited me.
Actually, he said, "they never recruited me at all.”
Which means the next loss for the Grenadiers, now three rounds deep in the playoffs, will, finally, be Wisteard’s last. Knowing that does make the imminence of such an important game bittersweet, but Wisteard figures his approach to the season has prepared him well for it.
“This is my last year of football and maybe my last game of football, so it’s pretty big for me,” he said, “(but) I don’t really put pressure on myself.
“Because of the way the coaches have told us to do our job, play our position and everything will be put into place, I just worry about playing my position, playing it well, and doing what I do best. If it falls into place, it falls into place; if not, I know I’ve tried my best to help win the game.”
Winning Saturday afternoon’s match in Beckwith Township against the two-time defending league champion Ottawa Myers Riders will be a tall order, given that nobody has beaten Myers in three years, a winning streak that grew to 31 games when the Riders defeated Cumberland 34-0 in last week’s semifinal.
Still, victory is not beyond the realm of possibility, Wisteard believes.
“I’m confident but I know they have a very good squad, so anything could happen,” he said. “It just depends on how we execute and how we make plays; how we can control the game, instead of letting them control us.”
The Grenadiers can be buoyed by their experience in last year’s conference final, where a couple of early turnovers led them to be down three touchdowns practically from the start, before they rallied to stage a dramatic second half comeback that fell just short. Though they ultimately lost 48-41, Kingston scored more points against Ottawa that night than anybody since Week 4 of the 2012 season—or since.
Then there’s the mixed message of the regular-season meeting this year, when Kingston led 14-12 late in the first half, only to succumb early in the second half when turnovers in consecutive possessions wound up as Ottawa touchdowns in an eventual 42-14 defeat.
“We lost to them but we were always in it,” said Wisteard, who lately has been working in a Madoc cemetery, helping to restore headstones. “This week our coaches have us prepared enough that we can go in there and believe we can beat them with the stuff that we have.
“(Last year), we knew we had a good team, and in the fourth quarter we put it together; we were hitting passes, making runs—we were connecting on every level.”
Wisteard says this year’s team is better than the one that made that dramatic comeback last year, with a better receiving corps and a quarterback, Dylan Fisher, who has an additional year of experience under his belt.
“This year, it seems like we’ve been the underdogs, always, and then we always rise to the occasion,” he said, “especially our (offensive) line. Our O line is small, but they’ve always come up big in games where we’ve needed them to (do that).”
There is only a handful of players on the team in their final year of varsity eligibility, but Wisteard said at the beginning of the year they were of one mind. “Because of what we did last year, we all wanted to get back to the conference final,” he said.
The season didn’t start well, with a last-minute loss at home to West Durham and a win over York-Simcoe that the Grenadiers were able to secure despite an unfathomable rash of penalties. “We weren’t clicking,” Wisteard said. “It was like, ‘OK, we got a touchdown, that’s cool, let’s go to the sideline,’ but later in the year, probably around Week 4, we started talking. After a touchdown, it would be, ‘Let’s get into it, let’s get two.’
“At the start, we’d always come out hot, always come out wanting to do our best, then halftime would come and we’d cool down, thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got this in the bag, we don’t need to keep on going.’ After that, at halftime the returning players and everyone who’s a leader on the team would get up and say keep on going. We’d get pumped again. We’d start like it was a new game again after halftime.”
That would be good advice to keep in mind Saturday, because, notwithstanding last year’s conference final, the Riders are nothing if not a second-half team. Besides the game this year with Kingston—27 unanswered points in the second half—last week’s semifinal win over Cumberland came when Myers broke open a two-point ball game at halftime with 32 straight points in the second half.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for 3 o’clock at Beckwith Park, southeast of Carleton Place, the same field used by the Ottawa Gee-Gees for their intercollegiate games two years ago while a new facility was being built on campus.
How to get there: Take Hwy. 15 north, past Smiths Falls to the Ninth Line Road in Beckwith Township. Turn right on the Ninth Line; the park is about seven kilometres east, on the right. It’s about a 90-minute drive with favourable conditions.