By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Going into the second half of their football game Thursday afternoon, you wouldn’t have thought momentum was something the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers had to worry about.
A 21-point lead, playing at home, having scored a touchdown with 4.6 seconds left in the first half—those are the kind of things that usually combine to make for an easy second half against an opponent that has become suitably discouraged.
Turned out, the most important thing Regi did in its match with the Napanee Golden Hawks wasn’t keeping that momentum, but regaining it.
A touchdown late in the third quarter stifled a spirited second-half rally by the visiting Hawks, and clinched a 28-7 Panthers victory, Regi’s third in four Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior football games this year.
The Hawks had clawed their way back into the game in a way no one could have predicted, based on their inability to move the football in the first half. They came to life on their first possession of the third quarter when quarterback Jake Morrow connected with Quinton Walters for a 54-yard pass that gave Napanee first down on the Regi five-yard line.
Morrow got sacked on the next two plays, however, and the Hawks’ third-down play failed.
“We don’t have the depth (on the line),” Napanee coach Corey Bowen said of his decision to throw the ball from that point on the field. “The guys were pretty gassed. I expected (Regi) to think that we were going to run the ball, so I wanted to try and surprise them.”
It turned out the Napanee rally, however, was just beginning.
When the Napanee defence held on Regi’s subsequent possession, another big play put the Hawks in first-and-goal. This time, it was a 31-yard run by Morrow that moved his team to the nine-yard line. This time, Napanee ran two plays straight ahead and scored on the second one, when Colson Bertrand carried over from the four. “I thought they would expect the pass so I changed it up and went with the run,” Bowen said, “and it seemed to work.”
The Hawks then dribbled a short kickoff and recovered it at the Regi 35-yard line, but this time the Regi defence gave no more ground. Napanee turned the ball over on downs and the Panthers embarked on a drive of their own that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Matt Nowak that restored Regi’s 21-point lead.
That sequence was pivotal, Panthers coach Ryan Poser said.
‘’Had they scored on that (short kickoff) it was a 21-14 game,” Poser said. “By us holding them, it ended up turning things around for us.”
It also got the Panthers back on message. Poser had hoped that with the comfortable lead at halftime, his players could concentrate on some more specific tasks, like reducing mistakes—such as penalties. Instead, two of the third-quarter Napanee drives were helped along by major fouls for unnecessary roughness.
“Trying to contain the emotions of 17-, 18-year-olds is not always easy,” Poser said.
Regi scored on its first drive, a rushing touchdown into the wind by Josh Andrews. Quarterback Quinton Auty connected with Nik Daniele for the Panthers’ second touchdown in the second quarter, then, in the final minute of the first half, Tyrell Downer took an Auty pass 34 yards to the Napanee one-yard line, and Auty punched it into the end zone from there.
The third-quarter scoring drive featured a splendid open-field run by by Andrews that gained 25 yards and a 30-yard completion from Auty to Malik Downer.
The teams traded turnovers in the fourth quarter, Napanee fumbling near midfield and Regi then giving the ball back on an interception that Bryan Weaver returned about 30 yards to the Panthers’ 40-yard line, but the Hawks couldn’t capitalize. There was no more scoring in the game.
“I don’t know if it’s the thought of playing a bigger school or what it is, but both games against the big schools, Frontenac and Regi, we’ve come out sluggish,” Bowen said. “I find that, after a while, we can actually compete against these schools but getting (his players) going is something that we’ve got to improve on.
“This week we came up against a quality side and they handed it to us. Credit to Regi. They’ve got a great program here and that’s what we’re striving to get at.”
Napanee’s third-quarter rally notwithstanding, the Panthers remained a potent offensive threat, thanks in no small part to their offensive line, a big, experienced group that includes fifth-year players Scott Niles and Nolan MacInnis; Spencer Goodfellow, who’s plying his trade both at Regi and with a club team in Brockville this fall, and centre Mike Clementino, “a hard-nosed guy who plays his position really well,” Poser said.
“Our O line is fantastic,” the coach continued, but one of the elements of the Regi offence that tends to go unnoticed, he said, is Nowak, a running back whose contributions go beyond carrying the football.
“He’s coming in as a Grade 11 player and in our ace backfield, having the one running back, he’s called on to do quite a bit,” Poser said. “He can slide across the line and pick up a blitz coming off the back side, which is fantastic, for a kid his age.”
Napanee went into the game with a new quarterback, Morrow replacing Nick Martin, who started the Hawks’ first three games but was playing Thursday as a receiver. Martin “has a great set of hands,” Bowen said, and is a receiver with the Grenadiers during the summer club season.
“I wanted to go tall and see what that would do with the receivers. It seemed to work. Jake has a great arm, and I think that it started to turn around; the boys rallied behind him.”
It was encouraging for Bowen to see.
“At halftime I wanted to see how they’d come out,” he said. “(Coming back) shows their character. If they’d put their heads down, well, that’s just an testament of where we are but the fact that they were able to come out and rally in the third (quarter) and try and make the comeback … that’s just full credit to the boys for not giving up.”
Though the loss left the Hawks 2-2, they remain 2-0 against fellow AA schools. Next week, they have a date with unbeaten La Salle. “They’re the premier club in double-A,” Bowen said. “That’s where we’re going to see where we are as a benchmark.”