By CLAUDE SCILLEY
An unfamiliar sight awaited visitors to the football field at Ernestown Secondary School Thursday afternoon: Players, lots and lots of players, on the sideline where the home team usually gathers.
It’s not a trick. There are 32 players this fall on the team list of the Ernestown Eagles, a team that, with only slight exaggeration, would have been hard pressed to come up with that many available able bodies a year ago if you took the number of players from two games and added them together.
At a school that has struggled with a small roster from the time the program was established eight years ago, such abundance is practically an embarrassment of riches, and if the outcome of Thursday’s match suggests anything, it’s that all those players comprise a pretty decent football team.
Time will tell.
“This is a good time,” Eagles coach Lou Bilkovski said, after his team defeated the visiting Bayridge Blazers 43-0, “but we’ll know what type of team we are when we see some adversity. That’s the time I’ll see what we have, exactly.
“We’ll just take one game at a time and see how it goes.”
With their chronically short bench, for years the first thing that people mentioned when discussing the Ernestown football team was, well, that short bench, as in how well the team did—pick one—despite how few players they had; before they got tired at the end of the game; given how difficult it must be to practise with so few people.
Even in their championship season of 2013, the plaudits were couched in references to that little detail. Bilkovski was tired of hearing it, and partly in a bid to put such talk to rest, he entered his tiny band in the AAA playoffs last year, a notch above the school’s AA classification.
The result was predictable—the Eagles didn’t get out of the semifinals, despite a gallant effort against Regi.
There it is again. It couldn’t just be a narrow defeat; one couldn’t seem to help describing an Ernestown outcome without making a bigger deal of the Eagles' pluck than their ability.
Perhaps those days are gone. The Eagles will no longer have to deal with backhanded compliments because, numbers-wise, they’re now more numerous than many teams in the league.
Bilkovski tries not to make a big deal of his team being, well, normal. “We gained some juniors who are very athletic,” he said, under-selling it.
He paused for a moment, perhaps to allow himself to feel good about his team’s new-found opulance.
“They’re great athletes.”
Certainly, an undersized, under-staffed Bayridge team was no match for the Eagles Thursday. It was 14-0 after one quarter, 33-0 at halftime and 40-0 when Ernestown got finished scoring, on a 10-yard field goal by Noah Baird late in the fourth quarter.
Bilkovski said he hoped to see his team perform well in a couple of specific respects Thursday. He got them both.
“I was looking for the offence to move the ball consistently,” he said, “and I was looking at the defence to be consistent in stopping the run.”
As well, some of those good athletes of whom he spoke made an impression in the defensive backfield. “The pass has always been our biggest problem on defence,” Bilkovski said, “and our secondary is terrific. We’ve really worked on hard on that.”
Among the touchdowns were two punt returns that were eerily similar, one late in the first half by Mack Hoggarth; the other in the third quarter by Josh Campbell. Each began near the sideline opposite the benches, both were taken wide to their right, and both ended after a foot race down the sideline in front of the Ernestown bench, about 70 yards later in the Bayridge end zone.
Running back Eric Plumley had a pair of second-quarter touchdowns for Ernestown, as the Eagles scored 19 points to break the game open. Chad Stymest and Baird also had major scores for the home team, which performed well under the direction of new quarterback WileyTaylor, who was a slotback in the team’s receiving corps a year ago.
“This year he asked us (if he could) step in at quarterback,” Bilkovski said. “He worked out over the summer and worked hard at practice and he has come into his own really quickly. He’s handled the offence really well.”
In Thursday’s other Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior game, the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers posted a 16-15 home-field victory over the defending AAA champion Frontenac Falcons, in the first game of the season for both teams.