By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It was not a night for an opponent to do Quinton Auty any favours.
So when the Holy Cross Crusaders fumbled the football on consecutive plays in the middle of the second half Friday night, they were bound to pay for them.
That they did, as Auty, the Regiopolis Notre Dame quarterback, marched the Panthers for touchdowns 38 seconds apart early in the fourth quarter, erasing a two-point Holy Cross lead and sending Regi on its way to a 31-12 victory in the annual Bill MacLeod Memorial game on Caraco Field.
Auty, in perhaps the best game of his career, finished with four touchdown passes as the Panthers improved to 2-1, and cemented their advantage over the league’s other two AAA teams, having now beaten both Holy Cross and the Frontenac Falcons.
Friday's performance was the latest step in Auty's maturation as a quarterback, Crusaders coach Ryan Poser said.
“Quinton was reading the defences better than he has in the past,” Poser said. “It wasn’t just a question of chucking the ball as deep down the field as he could and hoping for the best. He made some nice reads.
“He threw a couple of nice balls over the middle to the correct player, on the correct coverage.”
Trailing the game 10-6 at halftime, Holy Cross was unable to make anything from an interception early in the third quarter by Jordan Langille but Ian McLatchie later returned a punt 25 yards to midfield, from where the Crusaders mounted a nice drive that included a 20-yard pass from Colin Walker to Brandon Robbins and ended with a 34-yard touchdown run by Brody Blaskie that gave Holy Cross a 12-10 lead.
Just before the end of the quarter, however, the Crusaders fumbled the football and Regi recovered at its own 40-yard line. With Auty completing three passes along the way, the longest for 34 yards to Josh Andrews, the Panthers ultimately scored when Matt Nowak carried over from the five-yard line.
Luck was still not with the Crusaders on the ensuing kickoff, which they fumbled. On the very next play Auty connected with Nik Daniele for a 23-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, and after Ben Zahra’s convert Regi led 24-12.
Seven minutes later Auty and Andrews combined for a 22-yard completion that gave Regi its third touchdown of the quarter. In the game’s final minutes, a 36-yard pass from Auty to Malik Downer put the Panthers on the Holy Cross 18-yard line, from where Zahra ended scoring with a 24-yard field goal three plays later.
Poser said Auty has benefited from playing behind an experienced offensive line.
“Having as many returning offensive linemen as we do builds his confidence,” Poser said. “He’s gone somewhat untouched and his confidence grows every time.
“His back is clean every week.”
The game started relatively slowly, influenced by a cold wind blowing straight down the field. Noah Whitmore of Holy Cross scored the only touchdown of the first quarter on a short run, while Regi mustered a single and a safety around Daniele’s 10-yard touchdown catch in the second.
“The wind was dictating a lot of the play,” said Poser, whose team didn’t cross midfield in the first quarter while playing against it. “It was really a situation where we needed to wait for the wind so we could flip the field position.”
The Panthers denied a Holy Cross scoring bid from near the Crusaders’ goal line late in the second quarter and Poser said that was an important sequence in the grand scheme of the game.
“It (kept) us with the lead,” he said. “It was a confidence builder for us going back out for the second half still being up 10-6, instead of being down.”
The Panthers are now part of a four-team log jam at 2-1 with Frontenac, Napanee and Ernestown, as only La Salle, at 3-0, remains undefeated at the midpoint of the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association season. Holy Cross stands alone in sixth at 1-2.
It’s been a long time since the league exhibited such balance.
“It’s encouraging,” Poser said of the competitive equality. “It’s nice when there isn’t one team that’s dominant. You’re getting some great showings from teams that traditionally had weaker programs … which can only help their programs in the long run.”
Such growth is beneficial to the others, too, since the less a team is able to take its opponents for granted, the more it requires the preparation for each game to be precise.
“When it’s such a competitive league, you don’t go into any game thinking that it’s a gimme,” Poser said. “That always makes you better.”
In a game for the ages for the defence and special teams, in a 37-0 victory Friday afternoon at Bayridge, Frontenac led 14-0 before its offence so much as put a hand on the football.
The first score came when Tristan Halladay returned a punt 35 yards, his second kick return for a touchdown this year. Then, after Owen Bloom blocked a Bayridge punt deep in Blazers’ territory, defensive tackle Liam Haigh picked up the football and took it five yards for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, a tremendous hit by Devin Parris forced a fumble. Alec Ferland picked up the loose football and took it about 40 yards for another Frontenac touchdown.
Frontenac got two singles from two missed field goals and, finally, an offensive touchdown, on a pass from quarterback Brendan Steele to Kevin Toussaint, to lead 30-0 at halftime.
Ethan Horbay added a rushing touchdown in the third quarter and Halladay was good on all five convert attempts.
Play resumes Thursday when Napanee visits Regi and Holy Cross plays Sydenham at Caraco Field.