By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It was time.
The game was too important not to give Harry Robinson the football—and it didn’t take Robinson long to make the kind of impact his coaches hoped to see.
On his team’s second play from scrimmage, Robinson carried up the middle, shedding tacklers until he broke free for a 59-yard touchdown run. It proved to be the catalyst for the Frontenac Falcons’ 28-14 win over the Holy Cross Crusaders in the high school senior AAA semifinal game.
With a victory more decisive than the score suggests, the Falcons gained a berth in Saturday afternoon’s championship game at Loyalist Collegiate, against the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers.
Robinson, a fifth-year senior who came up in the Frontenac system, attended Holy Cross—but didn’t play football—a year ago and returned to the Falcons this year, is one of the league’s premier players. A versatile athlete, who plays summer ball with the Kingston Grenadiers, Robinson has played in the defensive secondary for most of his scholastic career, but this year he also played receiver for Frontenac.
He was kept more or less under wraps in the Falcons’ final regular season game, seldom a target of quarterback Brendan Steele, but Tuesday there was no mistaking he was going to be an important element of Frontenac’s offence—not as a receiver, but as the tailback.
“Harry ran the ball well,” Falcons coach Mike Doyle said, in his submission for understatement of the week.
“He hadn’t played running back all season, because he plays receiver and he plays defence, as well, and that’s a pretty tough load to carry, but we thought we needed a little extra something in the backfield today.
“He was a big difference maker. He made some first downs after getting hit at the line of scrimmage, or even once behind the line of scrimmage, so all of a sudden it was a little bit easier for our guys to block it up, because he hits the line with such speed.”
Tempting though it may be to try and get the most out of a talented athlete, Doyle said there’s a risk associated with doing so. “Absolutely,” he said. “That’s why we held off as late as we could.
“The other guys have been playing really well but we just felt that today, with the front that we saw from (Holy Cross) last week, we figured that we needed to try Harry at running back. He runs through guys. He runs through tackles.
“You’re not bringing him down with an arm tackle.”
On an overcast, sometimes drizzly day at Frontenac, the Holy Cross possession after that touchdown ended with Robinson intercepting a Colin Walker pass. Frontenac’s subsequent drive appeared to be stopped as the Falcons lined up for a 31-yard field goal attempt, but instead of spotting the ball for the kick, the holder flipped the ball to kicker Tristan Halladay, who got the ball to the Holy Cross eight-yard line.
It took just a couple of plays before quarterback Brendan Steele carried into the end zone from a yard out, giving the home team a 14-0 lead before the game was eight minutes old.
Frontenac’s ability to run the football stood in contrast to Holy Cross’s inability to do so. Consistently the Crusaders found themselves in a lot of second-and-long situations.
“They had a seven-man front against our five-man front,” Crusaders coach Tim Pendergast said. “We needed to throw the ball and we couldn’t. The conditions were slick, and we were so thin.”
When the teams met a week ago, three Holy Cross players went down with injuries, two on the defensive line, one of them a receiver. None recovered in time to play Tuesday.
“We had guys playing new positions, so it limited what we could actually do,” Pendergast said. “We had another receiver who had shoulder surgery two weeks ago. We had people in positions that hadn’t played all year.”
It was a hardship a team that has been challenged all year to score couldn’t overcome.
“We move the ball well between the twenties,” Pendergast said. “You look at the Sydenham game (a 6-4 loss). We moved the ball up and down the field; we just couldn’t get any points.
“We were a little slow getting out of the gate today and they had short fields and scored 14 points.”
It was in special teams play, Pendergast said, where the tide of the game turned. Specifically, he referred to a 52-yard punt return by Alec Ferland to the Holy Cross 18-yard line in the second quarter. Though the Falcons fumbled and failed to score on the possession, Pendergast said it was “the final nail in the coffin.”
“That was 60 yards of field position in a field-position game.”
The Crusaders, however, did themselves no favours on the ensuing exchange. Unable to get out of the hole, they punted but two penalties on the play, one for no yards, the other for objectionable conduct, placed the Falcons at the Holy Cross 24-yard line. After two carries from Robinson, Frontenac scored on a five-yard pass from Steele to Jake Magee.
The teams then traded turnovers as the half drew to a close. First Steele had the ball slip out of his hand as he began to throw, and it fell into the arms of Holy Cross’s Jacob Jefferies at the Frontenac 25-yard line. The Crusaders failed to capitalize, however, as Halladay intercepted a pass in the end zone, and the Falcons took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
The Falcons had two more interceptions in the second half, both by linebacker Muhammad Bhatda, one of which he returned 20 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that made the score 28-0.
Holy Cross got both of its touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game, as Walker first connected with Ian McLatchie for three straight completions on a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Matt McDonald, and then, in the closing seconds, Walker found Devin Leblanc in the end zone for the final score of the game.
Frontenac, 5-1 in the regular year and now winner of six in a row, tied with Regi for second place in the overall standings—first among the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s three AAA teams—but Regi was favoured over the defending champion Falcons in the tie-breaker, thanks to a season-opening 16-15 win when the teams met in September.
That gave Regi a bye into the final, but that became a dubious achievement, given the extended layoff it produced for the Panthers. Thanks to a default victory in its final regularly scheduled game, a bye in the final week of the season and a pass through the semifinal round, Regi be playing its first game in 23 days on Saturday.