By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It didn’t take long for the La Salle Black Knights to assert themselves Saturday afternoon.
Once they got the football, three plays and 42 yards later the Knights had their first touchdown. Though the Napanee Golden Hawks had more than 45 minutes left to figure things out, they never really did—at least, not to the extent that it would allow them to get back in the game.
Dominating play in virtually all respects, the Knights captured the Rob Druce Memorial Trophy with a 31-0 victory in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior AA championship game at Loyalist Collegiate.
The win sends La Salle to the eastern Ontario final on Friday, when the Knights will travel to Brockville to face the Leeds-Grenville champion Thousand Islands Pirates.
After stopping Napanee without a first down on the Hawks’ first possession, La Salle quarterback Mitch Dowd completed two passes and Tim Wight carried 11 yards for that first touchdown.
“We were fortunate enough to get great field position to start the game and we took advantage of it,” La Salle coach Reuben Brunet said. “Our first drive was just dynamite, and that was just huge for us.
“Any ball club, you come out early and score like that, it’s a really positive feeling, right across the whole team.”
La Salle was playing in its fifth straight county final and the difference in experience, against a Napanee team that had just four fifth-year seniors, was evident.
Napanee gained a couple of first downs on its next possession and appeared to have a nice gain on Jake Morrow’s first pass attempt, but then the roof caved in. The Hawks took two penalties on that play, not only negating the 20 or so yards they would have gained from the pass, but moving back 25 instead. Then came a screen pass completion for virtually no gain and on the next play Morrow threw an interception.
The sequence was a harbinger of what was to come for Napanee, none of whose players had ever played in a championship football game. Three poor snaps that collectively led to losses of 46 yards and a turnover on downs kept the Hawks pinned deep in their own end. Ultimately, the three miscues led to two La Salle touchdowns and a field goal.
Napanee, meanwhile, couldn’t get beyond midfield until less than a minute remained in the first half, and its best offensive foray—consecutive completions by Nick Nieman for 47 yards, taking the Hawks to the La Salle 23-yard line—died as time expired.
“La Salle being a powerhouse was playing in their heads a little bit,” Napanee coach Corey Bowen said, alluding to the early adversity his team faced.
Against a La Salle defence that allowed just 19 points—including only two touchdowns—in seven previous games, coming back from a 28-point halftime deficit simply wasn’t in the cards, though Napanee did allow just a field goal, Shawn Millers’ third in three tries, in the second half.
La Salle’s defence was superb, permitting Napanee just 92 yards of net offence.
“We collectively came up with a really good game plan,” Brunet said. “We saw Napanee, we knew where their threats were, who could hurt us, and we tried to neutralize those, and we stuck to our game plan all game. We didn’t deviate from the plan, and that was part of the reason things went so well.
“They’re awesome kids. The things we’re teaching them in practice— take away running lanes, have good pursuit angles—they’re reproducing in games, which makes it very hard for the other team to score.”
La Salle sacked the quarterback five times and the Knights had three interceptions, two of them by safety Liam Brick. Three other times a La Salle defender tackled a Napanee ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage.
“We’re really consistent in the things that we do,” Brunet said. “We don’t cheat. We don’t go and do our own thing; we always stay within the game plan. You’ll notice we played every kid we had, and they were all doing the same things, the exact things they’re supposed to do out there.
“It translates to success in the game.”
A good number of La Salle players are eligible to return next year and while such discipline might often be rare within such a young group, Brunet tipped his hat to the Kingston Grenadiers junior program.
“We have eight or nine kids who play Grenadiers football and it makes a huge difference, especially the guys on defence,” he said. “They’re getting so much exposure to high level football, and we are reaping the benefits of that.”
Napanee, after playing a stellar game in a 30-7 semifinal victory over Ernestown, couldn’t re-create that performance on Saturday.
“Full credit’s got to go to La Salle,” Bowen said. “That’s a powerhouse school and a powerhouse program and we’re striving to get to that level. Saying that, I’m very proud of the boys, the way they fought this year. I don’t think there would have been many schools that would have given us a chance to be in a championship game after not winning a game in the last four years.
“You can see a lot of hurt inside there,” he said, nodding toward his team’s dressing room, “and that’s great because that’s going to give them drive for next year. We know that we can get to these sort of games now, and the guys will go into next year with a lot more confidence, knowing that, hey, we can get here, and now we know what the benchmark is.
“I don’t think La Salle will get any weaker … (but) I have no doubt we’ll be back in the championship next year.”
After Wight opened scoring with his touchdown, Denver Stephens caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Dowd on the final play of the first quarter for La Salle. After Miller kicked field goals of 19 and 26 yards, Sam Mace, the all-purpose player who was playing fullback on Saturday, ran over a couple of would-be tacklers on a 26-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half.