By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s not uncommon for a high school coach to dip into his phys-ed class when he or she is in need of another body for a team, someone to fill a quota, someone to flesh out a lineup.
Seldom do they pull out a plum like Tristan Halladay.
An accomplished basketball player, Halladay was a young man who never put on a football uniform until September. He intercepted two passes Friday, and he kicked two field goals, all of which helped the Frontenac Falcons to defeat the Sydenham Golden Eagles 15-0 in a Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior football game.
Such achievements might open the eyes of a casual observer, but they don’t surprise Falcons coach Mike Doyle.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’ve had Tristan in my gym class, and you name the sport, Tristan’s one of the best at it, whether it’s soccer or basketball or floor hockey—it doesn’t matter what you’re playing, Tristan is just a fabulous, fabulous athlete.”
Which is what led Doyle to plant the seed last spring to try and get Halladay out to football practice.
“We talked to him and said, ‘Even if you only come out and return punts, we’ll be happy. You’ll be a great special teams guy.’
“His athleticism just takes over. He’s obviously good with the football; he’s good in pass coverage with his speed. We had our place kicker go down and we sort of took a look around and just said, ‘Hey, Tristan, give it a shot.’ Lo and behold, he can kick a pretty good field goal, too.”
A point guard on county champion and OFSAA basketball teams from Frontenac, Halladay says he remembers being encouraged to give football a try.
“Everyone was asking me to come play and I thought why not, see if I like it,” he said. “Now I love it. I wish I’d played more.”
Halladay said he wasn’t apprehensive about the contact. “Hitting people,” he said, is one of the things he loves about the game. “It’s a different environment.
“Playing with new guys, everyone is so positive,” he added.
Halladay has returned two punts this year for touchdowns, “and he’s a threat every time” to do so, Doyle said.
“He’s dangerous. A couple of times today he was one block away (from doing it again). They didn’t kick to him for too long.”
Halladay also has four interceptions this year, remarkable for one so new to the game in an aspect where instinct honed by years of experience typically is an important element. His second pick Friday was spectacular, as he jumped high to make a clean, two-handed catch.
Halladay suggested his ability to anticipate plays comes from years on the basketball court.
“I’ve always been very good at knowing where people are going, seeing where they’re heading to,” he said. “(It’s a matter of) knowing where the QB is looking, and keeping your head on a swivel.”
On a sunny afternoon at Frontenac, the teams were scoreless after the first quarter. The Falcons hit the score sheet late in the second quarter, when quarterback Brendan Steele and Harry Robinson connected for a seven-yard pass for what would be the game’s only touchdown. A 40-yard completion to Jake Magee was the big play of a drive that covered about 60 yards.
After Halladay picked off his first Kyle Compton pass with less than a minute left in the first half near his own 30-yard line, in four plays Steele completed three passes, the longest a 33-yard toss to Ben Braby, to put Halladay in position to kick a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Halladay’s second interception, in the third quarter, ignited a drive that sent the Falcons from their own 40 to the Sydenham 20-yard line, only to fumble the ball. Sydenham recovered, but the Eagles conceded a safety as the clock ticked into the fourth quarter.
On the subsequent drive, Halladay completed the game’s scoring with a 33-yard field goal.
His evolution into a kicker—he also does Frontenac’s kickoffs—came after the regular man, Braeden North, broke his collarbone in the season’s opening game.
“We needed a kicker, and I was like, ‘Hey I’ll try out,’ because I played soccer for a while,” Halladay said. “I started kicking one practice and it was going through. They (said), ‘Let’s be our kicker,’ and I was, like, ‘OK.’
“Now, I guess I’m a kicker, too.”
The win, Frontenac’s fourth in a row after a season-opening loss to Regi, was not important to the grand scheme of the season. The Falcons were already assured of hosting Holy Cross in a AAA quarter-final Nov. 10, though they have one game remaining in their regular schedule, next Thursday at Holy Cross.
Sydenham, which ended its season 2-4, was prevented from scoring a touchdown for the third time in its last four games. The Golden Eagles will travel to La Salle Tuesday for a AA semifinal against the first-place La Salle Black Knights. The other semifinal will be played in Napanee, where the Golden Hawks will host the Ernestown Eagles.
La Salle defeated Sydenham 19-0 when the teams met during the regular year, while Napanee staged a stunning comeback to defeat Ernestown 23-19. Napanee and Ernestown both finished 2-4, with neither distinguishing itself as the season concluded—the Hawks losing their last three in a row, the Eagles going 0-4 after opening the schedule with a pair of victories.
Friday’s other game was forfeited to the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers, as the winless Bayridge Blazers, who struggled mightily to field a team throughout the season, finally couldn’t carry on. It wasn't the best turn of events for the Panthers, who finished the year 5-1, since they will have gone 22 days without playing a game by the time they play in the AAA final Nov. 14.