By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It was a situation that led to some serious head scratching among the coaches of the Sydenham Golden Eagles Thursday afternoon.
When kicker Dylan Hutchinson was hurt—covering one of his own punts, no less—and had to come out of the football game, momentary despair set in.
“We did do one practice where a couple of other guys kicked,” Eagles coach Mike Love said, but just how did that go? “We were trying to figure out on the sideline who was it that was better? ‘Do you remember?’ ‘Do you remember?’”
Someone recalled that it was probably Zack Whitehead, a second-year senior who didn’t play much on Sydenham’s championship team a year ago, but who had settled into a job as a receiver this year.
“He has a good, solid head on his shoulders, so we figured in a pressure situation, let him have a go,” Love said.
“He was great.”
Indeed, he was.
Whitehead kicked a 13-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, and his 30-yard boot with 14.4 seconds on the clock gave his team a 6-4 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders in a Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior football game at wind-swept Caraco Field.
“Two right down the pipe,” Love said. “It couldn’t have been any more centre-cut on either of those.”
It was a landmark performance.
“Zack Whitehead kicked about two kicks in practice all year long,” Love said, “and he just made the same number to win us this ball game.”
In all, three dominos had to fall to resolve the loss of Hutchinson, who is also the team’s punter and safety. Skylar Clow became the crash punter, and he almost managed to get the ball deep enough in the Holy Cross end zone between the two field goals to give Sydenham what would have been a game-tying single.
“It’s one of those years,” said Love, whose roster numbers 32 when all hands report, a remarkably small number given the typical size of a Sydenham senior football team.
“We had 25 kids in gear today, so when people start going down in certain positions you hope the kids can step up, and today they really did.”
Holy Cross had a 1-0 lead at halftime—a single on a missed field goal—and the Crusaders led 4-0 going into the fourth, after getting a 17-yard field goal from Brandon Robbins.
Sydenham, having done nothing offensively in the first three quarters to suggest it was about to end its season-long three-game losing streak, found some resolve in the final period in the form of some strong running, inside from fullback Shane Herron and off-tackle from Tyler Cancian.
The Eagles’ first field goal came after a drive of about 60 yards. A shorter drive landed Sydenham at the Regi 35, from where Clow punted into the end zone. The Crusaders got the ball out, but they were two-and-out and punted with 1:15 to play. A 25-yard return by Cancian set Sydenham up at the Holy Cross 32-yard line, and with daylight fading as storm clouds approached, the Eagles gained not enough yards for first down, but enough to give Whitehead a 30-yard kick for the go-ahead field goal.
Holy Cross quarterback Colin Walker completed three-straight passes to move his team from its own 35-yard line to the Sydenham 30, but time expired before the Crusaders had a chance to run another play.
Holy Cross coach Tim Pendergast characterized the contest as a “defensive-type game.”
“We’d have these moments,” he said. “Our offence too often would have an eight-yard first-down play, and then we’d go offside and throw an incomplete pass; or we’d have second and three and try to throw the ball and miss the receiver … or someone would miss a block, and then all of a sudden we’re punting. There were no sustained drives.
“(Sydenham) didn’t come close to scoring in the first half, and neither offence had more than one or two first downs at a time.”
In a game where the wind dictated much of what transpired, when they had it in the third quarter, the Crusaders got into scoring position twice but came away with just the field goal. Then, as the period ended, Holy Cross took a major penalty and, instead of punting with the wind from near their own 45-yard line, found itself punting into the wind from near its own 20. “All of a sudden,” Pendergast said, “our field position is done” and the Crusaders never got it back.
It was difficult to imagine that a game played in good weather on a dry artificial surface would be so low scoring.
“Our run game was stalled and we weren’t getting a lot of push,” Love said. “I don’t know whether the (offensive) line got together and had a chat and said, ‘Fellas, let’s get at it,’ but by the fourth quarter we were driving the pile. A couple of those runs, after first contact there was 10, 15 more yards just from the push from the running back and the line.
“They were getting fired up about a chance to win and they finished the game really strong.”
It was a point the Sydenham coaches made during the intermission.
“We were close last week against La Salle at the half. It was 5-0, and we kind of wilted in the second half and they took it to us a bit,” Love said. “We just said, ‘Listen, let’s see if we can finish this one off and reward yourselves for the start you had,’ and they did.
“They were great.”
The Sydenham surge was palpable, Pendergast said.
“You could see as the game went on, their confidence started to grow and they were harder to bring down,” he said. “We don’t have the depth. You get a couple of guys injured and now you’ve got young linebackers and they’re running the ball down your throat.
“Our learning curve in certain places is not growing fast enough. We never made our plays and they worked hard. They’re better than an 0-3 team, and we’re not far off an 0-3 team.”
Sydenham improved to 1-3, while Holy Cross, whose only win has come against winless Bayridge, is 1-3.
“It was a great win,” Love said. “We knew that if we played well we could be competitive but we know (Holy Cross) is always a good, solid squad, so (the players) are pretty pumped about the victory today.”
In games Friday, the league-leading La Salle Black Knights, 3-0, visit the Blazers at Bayridge at 3 o’clock, while the Ernestown Eagles will host the Frontenac Falcons, both 2-1, in a 3:45 match in Odessa.