By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There wasn’t much doubt about what would be the topic of the halftime conversation among the La Salle Black Knights Friday afternoon.
It was pleasing to Reuben Brunet that he didn’t have to initiate it. The players knew exactly what was going to be discussed, and when their coach arrived at the end-zone huddle, they beat him to the punch.
“That was their collective voice when I got there,” sad Brunet, who was quite prepared to broach the subject of about 150 yards of first-half penalties the Knights incurred in their game with the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers.
“When I went down there to see the boys, I said, ‘Boys, what are we talking about?’ The first thing they said was, ‘Too many penalties, coach.’ I said, ‘I agree.’”
Since the ears were not only receptive, but well into processing the message without Brunet’s prompting, it’s perhaps not surprising that in the second half, the Knights were a much more disciplined football team. As a result, they erased a three-point deficit and defeated the Panthers 13-3 in a battle of undefeated Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior teams.
La Salle was guilty of just about every kind of foul a football team can commit: mouthing off, late hits, no yards, an offside that erased a long gain, even a flag for too many men on the field that sustained a Regi drive when the game was still scoreless. Whether the players genuinely were atoning for their misdeeds, or they just didn’t want to hear their coach’s opinion of them, became moot. “The second half,” Brunet said, “we really smartened up.
“We had one, maybe two penalties, and it really changed the complexion of the game. We made some really good decisions, and as a result we moved the ball on offence. The defence gave us short fields. It’s a good way to play football.”
That the message came not just from him, but from the players themselves, pleased Brunet but he said it didn’t surprise him.
“I am so fortunate to coach such an amazing group of human beings,” he said. “Not just football players, they’re good human beings. It makes it a pleasure to come to practice. They know it, because they’re bright, and they want to win. How are you going to win? You’ve got to reflect on what you do, and do it better.
“We were a different ball team in the second half. It’s very difficult to win in this league against quality opponents when you have issues like (penalties). We thought we had stuff that would work against Regi, and without the penalty problem, it made a huge difference.”
On a cool, overcast day at La Salle’s Berk Brean Field, wind out of the north, gusting at upwards of 55 km/hr, played havoc with every ball that wasn’t tied down, making every punt, pass or even shotgun snap an adventure.
An interception by Regi’s Ben Zahra near La Salle’s 40-yard line led to a punt single by Anthony Rego late in the first half, but La Salle was flagged for too many men on the field and the Panthers chose to take the first down instead of the point. The Knights escaped when Liam Peterson intercepted a pass at the goal line, leading some to wonder, on a day of extreme weather, with neither team being able to move the football, whether the Panthers might later regret having taken the single point off the scoreboard.
Ultimately they didn’t, because a poor punt and two La Salle penalties on the return shortly thereafter gave Regi the football at the Knights’ 25-yard line. Though they didn’t score, Rego kicked a 27-yard field goal 30 seconds before halftime.
La Salle took the lead six and a half minutes into the second half, but their first opportunity to extend the lead was snuffed early in the fourth quarter by an interception in the end zone by Regi’s Bryant Bishop on a third-and-goal try from the five-yard line.
Two Regi turnovers led to the final two scores of the game, as Peterson’s second interception and a fumble resulted in a pair of La Salle field goals by Shawn Miller from inside the 20-yard line.
Brunet said he was never worried that his team was unable to score for so long.
“I really believe in us defensively,” Brunet said. “Regi is as good a ball team (as we are), but because we’re strong defensively … I wasn’t worried once.”
It seemed odd that, on such a windy day, both quarterbacks, Regi’s Quinton Auty and Mitch Dowd of La Salle, would throw the football as often as they did. Part of it was that La Salle didn’t have its starting tailback, fifth-year senior Tim Wight, though backup Sam Mace was beyond credible as a replacement. “He was awesome,” Brunet said.
Frankly, Brunet said, both teams like to throw the football and there’s not much a coach can do when game day dawns windy.
“We have a nice set of receivers and we’ve got a great quarterback, so we like to throw,” he explained. “In Regi’s case, their offence is designed to throw. They’ve got some unbelievable, big, strong receivers there and their quarterback throws a really nice intermediate to deep ball.”
The skeptics were silenced in the second half when the game’s only touchdown drive, of about 60 yards, featured three successive completions, from Dowd to Haynes Kent, Oliver Tibbs and Grant LeGood, the latter for 16 yards and the score.
Despite playing with the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter, Regi couldn’t move the football until the final minute, but the Panthers’ final drive ended just beyond midfield when time expired.
“I was very pleased that we had an opportunity to shut them down. I’m going to give a lot of credit to the guys who structured the defence against Regi,” Brunet said, with a nod to assistant coaches Kim Latourell, Matt Vickers and Matt McLeod.
“They really had a good game plan. They had it all organized.”
In Friday’s other game, the Holy Cross Crusaders defeated the Bayridge Blazers 51-0 at Bayridge. The victory evened the Crusaders’ record at 1-1, while the Blazers fell to 0-2.
Crusaders coach Tim Pendergast got all of his players into the game, but he believes that, even though his team prevailed, the most impressive aspect of the game was the valiant play of the Blazers in defeat.
“One wouldn’t be able to tell the score by how those kids played, every snap,” Pendergast said. “The size of our line, compared to theirs, was a David-and-Goliath type of situation but they played every snap like it was their last.”
Play resumes Thursday when undefeated Ernestown visits Napanee for a 1:30 game, and La Salle hosts winless Sydenham for a game under the lights scheduled for 8 p.m.