By CLAUDE SCILLEY
NAPANEE—Ernestown Eagles were a giving football team Thursday afternoon. They gave and they gave, ultimately until it hurt.
On a glorious fall day, the Eagles turned the football over five times. They gave back a kick return for touchdown, thanks to a penalty. At the end of the ball game, as they were nursing a three-point lead and trying to kill the clock, a fumble they recovered nonetheless cost them 10 yards, meaning the punt that inevitably followed gave the Napanee Golden Hawks a short field to mount their last bid for a go-ahead score.
That was the one the Eagles couldn’t overcome.
With about a minute to play, Napanee quarterback Nick Martin found Josh Durnan with a pass that Durnan took 30 yards to the Ernestown end zone for a touchdown that gave the Hawks a come-from-behind 23-19 win, their second victory in three Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior games this year.
Napanee coach Arthur Laramie said the game-winning score came on a play that came not from the bench to the huddle, but from the players to him.
“They asked for it,” Laramie said. “(Durnan) asked for it and we gave it to him. He said, ‘I can catch it and I will beat my guy,’ straight-up, so we gave it to them.
“That’s our football. We have a trusting football team; we listen to our kids.”
It was the second-straight win at home for Napanee, now 2-1, and the first loss in three games this year for Ernestown, a team that appeared to be in command when Noah Baird kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 19-7 lead late in the third quarter.
For most of the game, the Eagles were unquestionably the better team. When Napanee failed to gain first down on a third-down gamble near the Ernestown 20-yard line midway through the third quarter, the Hawks squandered what had been their deepest—indeed, their only—penetration into Eagles territory to that point.
Lo and behold, however, Ernestown gave the ball right back, opting not to punt and failing to make first down on the subsequent possession, giving Napanee the ball back at the Eagles’ 30-yard line. From there, the Hawks launched their first scoring drive, one that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Justin Crosby.
Eagles coach Lou Bilkovski came to regret the decision.
“I had complete confidence in them and thought, ‘We can do this.’" he said. "My bad call, that’s what it was.”
Ernestown appeared to shake it off, however, marching on its next possession to get Baird’s second field goal of the game for a 12-point lead to take into the fourth quarter, but the Hawks got a touchdown with less than three minutes to play on a 25-yard run by Colson Bertrand. The two-point convert attempt failed but three plays after the Eagles fumbled near their own 30-yard line, Napanee’s Liam Wheeler kicked a 35-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 19-16.
When the Eagles failed to gain first down, Napanee got the ball with about a minute to play and that’s when Martin threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Ernestown had one long run on its final possession, but the drive to regain the lead died in the face of a spirited Napanee defence, one that knocked down two passes and ended the threat with a sack of quarterback Wiley Taylor.
It was a remarkable display of resiliency by a team that, after upsetting Sydenham in its season opener, was defeated 37-7 in its last game and seemed to have not a lot going for it Thursday after being unable to take advantage of interceptions by Wheeler and Bryan Weaver in the first quarter, or a third-down stop in the second.
“(It was) very nerve-wracking,” Laramie said of the late-game push, “but the kids kept their composure the entire time. We cooled them down; made sure they didn’t play with passion, that they played with their brains. They stayed cool and did their job.”
Laramie said the ability to do that comes from working hard all week.
“I drive the kids to their max,” he said. “I perform combat breathing and they always know the maximum their body can go, and then we calm their minds down. Even though their body’s tired, their mind is still with it, and your mind can do wonderful things with the body when it’s pushed to its max.
“That’s our philosophy: train hard, fight easy.”
Technically, Laramie said his team simply played better in the second half.
“We adjusted to their fly offence, defensively, and got firing on the offensive line, made sure we came off the ball hard and played smash-mouth, old school football.”
Ernestown also generated a number of Napanee turnovers, with interceptions in the first half by Derek Brushette and Jackson Boyes, the first of which led to the Eagles’ first touchdown, which came on a 20-yard pass from Taylor to Baird. Shortly after that Taylor scored the Eagles’ second touchdown, on a one-yard run.
Attrition began to overcome the Eagles, however. By the end of the game, left guard Josh Cooley, centre Alec Welbanks and Breshette, a corner, had all come out of the game with injuries. The loss of Welbanks was particularly troublesome, Bilkovski said. “There were a bunch of plays where we couldn’t get the ball snapped properly. The backup we have hasn’t really had that many snaps.”
Bilkovski said the game turned on the opening kickoff of the second half, when Josh Campbell went about 85 yards for a touchdown, only to have it called back. Campbell ultimately was sprung into open field by a terrific block in front of the Eagles bench by Josh Driscoll—“he came from a fair ways over to make it; it was a great heads-up play on his part”—but alas, the play came back over an illegal block much earlier in the play.
“That kind of killed us,” Bilkovski said. “That was one of those ones, if we’d had that, I think things would have been a little bit different for us.
“We moved the ball really well in the first half; the defence played tremendous. We were firing on all cylinders. We had everything under control … but in the second half, man, the wheels fell of the wagon. It was one thing after another. The injuries, a block from behind—you just can’t get away with those sorts of things all the time. It caught up to us.”