By CLAUDE SCILLEY
If the guy’s own quarterback doesn’t know what’s going to happen, what hope can an opponent possibly have?
“What can I say?” Frontenac Falcons quarterback Brendan Steele said of Harry Robinson, not long after his tailback clinched a 35-14 championship victory over the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers Saturday afternoon with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.
“He sees things I can’t see back there,” Steele said. “I think the play’s dead, and he’ll break it off for 10, 15 yards, and when he gets that crease, he’s gone every time. He played a great game.”
Robinson’s touchdowns, on runs of 62 and 54 yards on a mostly cloudy and always cold day at Loyalist Collegiate, sealed a win that gave Frontenac its fifth straight Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior AAA football title, the seventh for the Falcons in the last 10 years.
The first TD, coming with his team leading by 13 points going into the fourth quarter, significantly diminished Regi’s chance of coming back. The second came exactly a minute after the Panthers scored a touchdown, once again to get within two scores of the lead. It was an emphatic ‘no you don’t’ message to the Panthers, who, like Frontenac, ended the regular year with a 5-1 record.
Both of Robinson’s long touchdowns came on runs up the middle that looked like they might be good for six or eight yards, but a couple of moves later he was in the open field and catching him from behind was simply not going to happen.
“I’ll be honest,” said Robinson, who was hard-pressed to recall anything specific of either touchdown dash. “Once I get the ball, it’s just kind of a zone,” he said. “Natural instinct.
“I just play.”
Robinson, who plays in the defensive secondary for the Falcons, and has been used as a receiver, returned to tailback for their semifinal game with Holy Cross on Tuesday. He said he was happy to be back.
“I missed playing running back,” he said, “but I do what the team needs.”
Robinson ended the day with 170 yards from 11 carries.
On both of his long runs, Frontenac caught Regi blitzing. “Harry got through their heavy front and blitz package, and there was no one there in the second level to stop him,” Frontenac coach Mike Doyle said. “Once he got through the first level, there was no one there to make a play.”
The game started as either a terrific defensive battle or a dubious offensive display. The teams combined for 50 yards of offence in the first quarter, and just three first downs. The two quarterbacks, Steele and Regi’s Quinton Auty, combined to complete none of their first dozen pass attempts. A convert was botched on one of the two touchdowns, and even Robinson was caught behind the line of scrimmage on two of his first three carries.
By halftime, Regi had 124 yards of offence, but 83 of them came on a touchdown pass from Auty to Malik Downer. Despite getting 41 yards from their other 16 offensive plays, the Panthers led, 7-6. Altogether, the two QBs had thrown five interceptions by halftime—brilliant defence, perhaps—but neither offence was able to capitalize on any of them—not a single point—a detail that pretty much suggests two inept offences.
Regi coach Ryan Poser said his team’s inability to turn takeaways into points ultimately is what doomed his team to defeat.
In one sequence that was beginning to border on comedic late in the second quarter. Steele threw an interception that Anthony Rego returned about 35 yards. A Frontenac penalty set Regi up at the Falcons’ three-yard line.
On Regi’s first bid for the end zone, Auty’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Devon Parris, but he fumbled at the end of his return, and the Panthers were back in business at the Frontenac 20. Auty then threw another interception, this one by Tristan Halladay in the end zone—his second pick of the day, and his seventh of the season.
“The way the numbers worked out, that series was probably the most impactful,” Poser said. “Instead of coming away with points (after Rego’s interception), we threw another interception, which kept the game really, really close.
“Had we started the third quarter leading 14-6, it could have been a totally different game. We started pressing a little bit, we got beat on a couple of blitzes, where they sneaked through and we ended up getting burnt.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, Frontenac fumbled the ball away on the first play of the second half, but the Panthers still couldn’t turn it into points, as the offence left the field after just two plays.
By now, however, the Falcons had figured things out. Steele promptly completed two passes, one to Jake Magee for 65 yards, and the other to Aidan Foley for an 11-yard touchdown that put Frontenac ahead in the game for good.
Circumstances and the schedule—not to mention the Panthers’ Week 1 16-15 victory over Frontenac that gave them a semifinal bye—conspired to give Regi 22 days between games, but Poser didn’t think that was a factor in the outcome.
“I suppose in hindsight, yes,” he said. “The bigger impact was probably the sequence just before the end of the first half.”
The Falcons, who had scored fewer than 25 points just once as they won their previous six games—with an average margin of victory of 24 points in that time—clearly were out of sorts in the first half, scoring just six points.
“We went into halftime and we knew that our offence didn’t perform the way we do,” Steele said. “I missed a couple of throws, a couple of guys missed routes, but (coach Mark) Magee talked to us and it was, like, ‘You’ve got to get it sorted out.’
“(In the second half), we just had more trust in each other. Guys ran great routes (and) the offensive line was pushing them around out there.”
That was partly due, Steele said, to changing the blocking scheme.
“We changed it from slide protection in the first half to just our regular protection that we’ve been doing all year,” he said. “We schemed up this slide protection for this game, specifically, but then we went back to our old stuff, back to old habits, and it went perfectly.”
Not to be dismissed, Steele said, was the play of a defence that not only took the ball away four times, but held Regi to just 48 yards rushing.
“Our defence played lights out,” Steele said. “(Regi) had that one long play, which was unfortunate, but they played a helluva game. We’re really happy for them.”
“We’re a second-half team,” Robinson said. “When we get big (defensive) plays, the offence feeds off that … it accumulates and we just kept going.”
Doyle suggested his players may have been playing under the spell of the jitters that often accompany playing in a championship game.
“The O line was panicking and making some mistakes, just out out the excitement of the day, in the first half,” Doyle said. “A couple of times they slid the protection to the wrong side, or missed a block, and when they were able to calm down in the second half, when they settled in, those mistakes went away.
“The halftime message was, ‘Just relax; before each play, take a deep breath; try to get back to the huddle faster, to have a minute to collect your thoughts. On defence, (it was) just take a breath, and look at down and distance.
“It’s tough. You want them to have energy; you want them to be enthusiastic, but they’ve got to be able to think and see the field clearly, and I think we did a better job of that in the second half.”
Regi’s other touchdown came from Tyrell Downer, on a 36-yard pass from Auty with a little less than seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Just 3-for-18 in the first three periods—with four interceptions—Auty found himself in the fourth, completing nine of 14 throws for 133 yards.
It was just too late.
“They fought to the end,” Poser said of his players. “It wasn’t a situation where we were being outplayed or out-muscled. There were a lot of situational things—we’d get going and our drive would stall because of a turnover. It certainly wasn’t any lack of effort by the boys.
“The season should be seen as a success. We only lost two games, and one of them happened to be in the final. It would have been nice to play in Hamilton and represent the region, but Frontenac is deserving of the championship.”
For the fourth year in a row, the Falcons are bound for an Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations bowl game, this one to be played at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton on Wednesday, Dec. 2, against the champion of the South West Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association. A double-A school that opted to play up a level, Frontenac gets a direct bid to the OFSAA Bowl, one of nine that will be contested in Hamilton Nov. 30-Dec. 2, since there are no AAA schools in eastern Ontario outside the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
The SWOSSA championship game is scheduled for Nov. 25, between the winners of the Windsor-Essex and Lambton-Kent conferences. The Windsor-Essex semifinals were played Friday night, with Windsor Herman and Holy Names emerging. Sarnia Northern and Chatham Kent are the AAA finalists in Lambton-Kent.