By CLAUDE SCILLEY
BECKWITH TOWNSHIP—In any given football game, there are a handful of seminal plays, events that come to define the game and usually have a lot to do with determining its outcome.
On a sunny but mild day on the plains of central Lanark County Saturday, there were enough such plays to make the Wettges Conference championship match of the Ontario Varsity Football League typical. Just as typically, they all seemed to go in favour of the team on the business end of a three-year-old, 32-game winning streak.
When that happens, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the perennially powerful Ottawa Myers Riders really didn’t have much difficulty in defeating the Kingston Grenadiers 48-21 at Beckwith Park, claiming their fourth straight conference title—the second earned at the expense of the Grenadiers in two years.
Some of those pivotal plays were obvious; their impact on the game clear for all to see. Others were more subtle, their influence on the eventual result not quite so evident, but no less decisive. In the former category were two turnovers, a first-half interception and a fumble on the first series of the third quarter, that both wound up in the Kingston end zone.
In fact, Ottawa scored three touchdowns on turnovers, as the Riders scored their last one late in the game after a failed fake punt led the Grenadiers to relinquish the ball on downs.
“Turnovers at any level are critical and against this team they’re magnified because they’re so good,” Grenadiers coach Mark Magee said. “The kids don’t go out to have turnovers happen, but when they do, against this team, they’re just too good (not to capitalize).”
Almost as critical as those plays, however, was a sequence in the middle of the first half that didn’t involve a turnover. The Grenadiers stopped Ottawa in the red zone and the Riders, missing their regular kicker, missed a 24-yard field goal that would have given them a 17-7 lead.
Harry Robinson returned the ball from 15 yards deep in the end zone, the Grenadiers made two first downs and they were second-and-three near midfield. Having scored on their previous possession, the Grens looked to have shaken the ill effects of having given up touchdowns on consecutive Ottawa possessions in the first seven minutes of the game. Trailing by just seven points, they actually had more total yards—129 to 110—than Myers.
The fateful play came as quarterback Dylan Fisher threw an incomplete pass. As the play ended, a Kingston player got his hands in the face of an Ottawa defender and was given a major penalty—one of seven, by the way, that Kingston would take amid the 194 yards they lost to fouls.
Rare as unnecessary roughness penalties are against an offence, this one meant that instead of third-and-three from the 50-yard line, the Grenadiers were suddenly third-and-18 from their own 35. Whether it was coincidence—or it led the Grens to take a collective emotional powder—after that infraction Kingston managed just 19 more yards and one first down from four possessions in the final 13 minutes of the first half.
As you may expect, the Grenadiers had to punt but the defence held, putting Ottawa in a punting situation on the next series. This time the Riders executed a fake punt, made first down, and scored a touchdown five plays later to make the score 21-7.
“It’s interesting,” Magee said. “We were ready. We looked at each other and said, ‘They’re going to fake it.’ The fullback actually started forward (as the play began). They just executed; they did a better job than we did of stopping it.”
The final nail in the coffin of the Grens’ season essentially was nailed on the first series of the second half. In two plays, Kingston had advanced the ball 19 yards to midfield. Then Harry Robinson fumbled after a seven-yard gain that would have produced a first down in Ottawa territory. Eleven plays, five minutes and 59 yards later, the Riders had a touchdown that gave them what proved to be an insurmountable 34-7 lead.
“It’s unfortunate,” Magee said. “It’s not that we didn’t play hard. We played extremely hard, we were physical, we were better on the line of scrimmage, we did a little better job of rushing the ball (than the last time we played Myers) … the kids gave a great effort. It wasn’t enough.
“There were times on offence when we didn’t execute the way we needed to do. They did what we expected, and we had some answers for their stuff, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
Carter Matheson scored all three of Kingston’s touchdowns, all on passes from quarterback Dylan Fisher that became scores of 15, five and 35 yards. Matheson was actually the game’s top receiver, with a dozen catches for 194 yards.
Fisher, 23-for-43 for 318 yards, was overshadowed by his fellow conference all-star, Jacob Spinella of the Riders. He completed 27 of 41 attempts to eight different receivers for 340 yards, including one stretch in the second quarter when he shredded the Grenadiers’ secondary with a 9-of-10 run that included touchdown passes that took the Ottawa lead from seven points to start the period to 21 by halftime.
Spinella ended the game with six touchdown passes, two of them to Phil Illoki, and no interceptions. Illoki finished with eight catches for 115 yards.
“Nothing really disappoints me too much,” Magee said. “We were well prepared. We made mistakes and it seems to always happen against these guys that when you make a mistake, they always make you pay.”
The Grenadiers ended their season 8-3, with two of those defeats having come against a team from the national capital that plays its games in the boonies.
“I’m really quite proud of our guys,” Magee said, with a nod to the fact that the record was achieved by a bunch that typically was mismatched by the size and athleticism of its opponents.
“When you see the athletes these other teams have, it’s really something that we’re able to do what we do.”