Category: Team News

The North Bay Bulldogs reel off 28 points to beat Sudbury on Saturday night

The Bulldogs started slow but finished fast to end their Northern Football Conference regular season with a 5 and 1 record after beating the Sudbury Spartans 42-21.
Author of the article:Greg Estabrooks | North Bay Nugget
Published Jul 23, 2023

It was a little tougher than expected for the North Bay Bulldogs on Saturday night. The Sudbury Spartans may have been winless entering their game with the Bulldogs at Cundari Field, but they did arrive to compete.

Sudbury led the Bulldogs 21-14 late in the second quarter before the Bulldogs scored twice in the final three minutes to head to halftime with a 28-21 lead.

North Bay shut out the Spartans in the second half, scoring two more touchdowns, and cruising to a 42-21 win.

North Bay finishes the regular season with a 5-1 record. Ottawa handed the North Bay side its only regular-season loss after the Sooners rallied from a 21-0 deficit to stun the Bulldogs 35-33 on July 15.

Marc Mathon, the head coach and defensive coordinator, commented on his team’s ability to shut down the Spartans after a tough start.

“I think the guys just got caught a bit off guard,” said Mathon. “They were trying to corral (Sudbury’s offence) instead of attacking. We just changed it to a more attacking defence in the second half and that made a difference.”

Veteran defensive back Kory Benoit, who had one of three North Bay interceptions in the contest, talked about the change in approach.

“We just needed to buckle down and play our game of football,” he said. “Just do what the coaches asked us to do. We were a little concerned but knew if we did our jobs, we would prevail.”

The Bulldogs turned the ball over early in the game and that aided Sudbury, giving the Spartans a short field.

Quarterback Jordan Heather said a few things contributed to the sluggish start but it was good to see his teammates find their stride.

“We had a backup centre in the game, our normal centre has been away,” he said. “We had a snap go over my head, it happens. We also had a fumble in the first half. We had football plays that just didn’t go our way.

“They came to play, and you have to hand it to them for that,” said Heather. “It took us a little bit to wake up. Once our defence started to click, we held them scoreless in the second half and our offence was also able to do our thing.”

Heather threw a whopping six touchdown passes in the game as North Bay racked up 480 yards of total offence.

The Bulldogs quarterback had an animated talk with the team post-game and said the Bulldogs need to bear down, as the games are only going to get tougher.

“You got to be at practice; you got to commit,” said the Bulldogs pivot. “A new season is starting. We have a chance to do something good here. But we need to have a good week of practice to take it forward.”

Nick Laporte caught two more touchdown passes on five receptions for 136 yards.

Jacob Steringa scored twice himself, finishing the game with 125 yards receiving on eight catches.

Fisher Bilz caught his first touchdown pass of the season and rushed for a season-high 75 yards.

The Bulldogs host the Ottawa Sooners next Saturday back at Mike O’Shea Field, with the kickoff set for 7 p.m.

Original Article

Spartans battle despite NFC defeat

Author of the article:Jeff Giffen | The Sudbury Star
Published Jul 24, 2023

Junior Labrosse has never been one to shy away from ripping into the performance of his players if the situation warrants, but the head coach of the Sudbury Spartans men’s team had little to criticize on Saturday night.

The traditional hard hat for player of the game went to all 25 guys, who battled for every inch in a 42-21 loss in North Bay to end their regular season in the Northern Football Conference.

The Spartans finish with a record of 0-6, which in most seasons would mean missing the playoffs, but a combination of the Toronto Phantom Raiders taking a leave of absence and the Oakville Longhorns being an even worse 0-6 team than Sudbury, with far more points against, means the locals will squeak into the post-season with absolutely nothing to lose.

They will visit the 5-1 Tri-City Outlaws on the road this coming weekend.

Work commitments and the injury bug left the Spartans seriously short-handed for the game against the Bulldogs, but Coach Labrosse was impressed with the attitude of those 25 guys.

“The guys battled … holy jeez … the entire game,” he said with pride. “We just ran out of gas, but we were able to play with them. Running backs played well, our passing game was there, we were able to score points — something we’ve struggled doing all season — and our defence came up with a few turnovers here and there, so all in all I’m really proud of the guys that went down (to North Bay).”

The Spartans surprised the Bulldogs, who finished second in the NFC, by jumping out to a 7-0 lead and it was a bit of a slugfest at the beginning with the teams going back and forth on offence. It was 14-14 after the first quarter and 28-21 at the half.

But a short bench eventually took its toll, with some guys having to play all three positions — offence, defence and special teams.

“It just comes down to war of attrition, our numbers aren’t there, injuries happen during the game and you’re looking at the bench and the guys know it’s next-man-up mentality,” said Labrosse, who admits it’s easy to say, but a lot harder to do. “For a person that hasn’t practised or played defence, to say OK, you’re going to go in and you’re going to play defensive back, you’ve got to cover this guy and learn the defensives schemes on the fly. And the same thing, wide receiver goes down, you’ve got defensive backs (filling in). You don’t know the passing tree, you don’t know the plays, but you know you’re going to grind it out, you’re going to listen and you’ve got to do it.”

It’ll be a tall task for the Spartans against the league’s top team next weekend. The Outlaws beat Sudbury 37-7 on July 15, and their points for and against on the season were 246-64.

But you never know.

“If we can come out like we came out (on Saturday in North Bay), if we come out like we did the first quarter against Tri-City (in the regular-season matchup), anything can happen,” Labrosse said of what appears to be an uphill battle. “It’s going to be tough, just because of the lack of numbers, guys get gassed. We’ve got to hope that a couple of injured guys are going to be good to go, that could prop up the numbers.”

While the whole team earned the hard hat on Saturday, Labrosse was impressed with Victor Paajanen’s two interceptions, some excellent receptions by Tyler Bell and the ability of quarterback Nick Rideout to move the ball with his arm and his legs.

Original Article

NOTE: This article was published before the NFC announced the Playoff Picture. Sudbury forfeits the quarter final game

Bulldogs look for ‘special’ finish against Spartans

North Bay regroups from Ottawa comedown, shores up onside kick strategies
Author of the article:Greg Estabrooks | North Bay Nugget
Published Jul 21, 2023

The Bulldogs men’s team tasted defeat for the first time this season in the Northern Football Conference when they coughed up a 21-0 lead and fell in Ottawa 35-33 to the Sooners.

North Bay should have an easier time at home this Saturday when they host the winless Sudbury Spartans in a game once again played at Cundari Field because their usual home, Mike O’Shea Field, is being used for a soccer festival.

What really hurt the Bulldogs last week was the play of the special teams. Ottawa recovered two onside kicks which gave them great field position and kept the Bulldogs offence on the sidelines. So, guess what they were working on at practice this week?

“100 per cent going to be addressed this week,” says quarterback and offensive coordinator Jordan Heather.

“Moving forward it has to be a focus for our team. We cannot leave special teams until a Friday (walkthrough practice) when we do not have the numbers out. We need to focus on what we must do and make it a priority.”

Would that mean using different players on special teams?

“Somewhat,” says Heather. “We must even it out, have a few more starters in there, guys who really know football that have played and know that situation. It is a scheme thing, and we do not practise it enough.”

The Bulldogs are playing a team that already handled pretty easily on the road and now they get them at home. If North Bay gets off to a big lead, they can give their backups some much needed playing time with the playoffs around the corner.

“Anytime we can get guys playing time that is the goal,” says Heather, who passed for five scores and more than 400 yards in a losing effort last week.

“Everyone pays to play here so we want to make sure we can get guys in and if we are up by a few touchdowns, it allows us to do that,” says Heather.

The Bulldogs’ loss really hurt as they were the only team in the Northern Football Conference without a defeat. Now at 4-1, North Bay is tied with two other teams with that record.

Head Coach Marc Mathon knows there are a lot of variables out there, but mission one is to win the game they are playing.

“The position could really change this weekend with Sarnia (3-2) playing Tri-City (4-1) and Sault Ste Marie (3-2) is playing the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) All-Stars (4-1) at home,” says Mathon. “We could end up in first if Sarnia beats Tri-City.”

First things first, says Mathon. “We got to do what we have to and win, and the chips will fall wherever they may.”

The kickoff is Saturday night at 7 pm.

Original Article

‘Pass protection has been the issue’: Steelers looking to get passing game in gear, host GTA All Stars

With four quarters remaining in the regular season, Bujold is hoping things turn for the better but hope isn’t something the team wants to rely upon in the weeks ahead.
Author of the article:Gordon Anderson | Sault Star
Published Jul 20, 2023

As the football season whittles down to its inevitable conclusion, the local semi-pro team is making inevitable personnel changes to jumpstart a struggling passing game.

The Sault Steelers conclude NFC regular-season play this Saturday night when the GTA All Stars come to town for a mid-summer Saturday matchup.

“What you are going to see more of now that we are in playoff mode, you are going to see less rotation on offence,” Steelers offensive lineman and GM Jon Bujold told the Sault Star. “We are leaning on the veterans, the guys with a little bit more experience who can adapt and adjust during the game.”

While the defence is, points allowed wise, third best in the league, surrendering just 60 points, the same can’t be said about the offence and its ranking, slotted seventh in the nine-team league with 59 points scored.

“Pass protection has been the issue,” Bujold said. “Teams like to throw a lot of disguise blitzes at us and you have to know how to audible out and pick a different assignment. That’s one thing we hope to do better, with the more experienced guys out there in the passing game.”

Bujold also acknowledges pass protection isn’t the only issue on the throwing side.

Quarterback Ryan Yost and his bevy of wide receivers need to fix what’s been ailing them through 20 quarters of ball.

Basically, all the facets of an effective air game need to display some fluidity.

“It’s just the hope (that Yost) and the receivers getting more crisp, running more refined routes and being in the right spots,” Bujold said. “We hope for this week we see that click a little bit.”

With four quarters remaining in the regular season, Bujold is hoping things turn for the better but hope isn’t something the team wants to rely upon in the weeks ahead.

“We are hoping the growing pains we have gone through this year lead to some sort of meshing of the offence as we head to the playoffs,” Bujold said. “We hope (the offence) will come together and click and we will see that on Saturday, if we are any closer to that happening. The regular season is where you are supposed to work on that stuff and it’s been a slow progress, if any, on the offensive side.”

However, Bujold is confident in the running game itself, featuring Alonzo Clarke as the primary ball carrier.

“Running the ball isn’t an issue as we have a big, athletic offensive line that like to get after it,” Bujold said.

And while 100 per cent accurate offensive stats aren’t always available, Bujold noted the team is safely in the top-five in categories such as rushing yards and rushing attempts.

“We are the best running team in the league by quite a margin so running the ball isn’t too much of an issue,” Bujold said.

Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Rocky DiPietro Field.

Original Article

‘Play for pride’ — Spartans treat season as learning experience, look to finish strong

Sudbury to close out regular season in North Bay on Saturday, open playoffs next week
Author of the article:Ben Leeson | Sudbury Star
Published Jul 20, 2023

Win or lose this weekend, the Sudbury Spartans are assured of a berth in the Northern Football Conference playoffs, but head coach Junior Labrosse figures there’s still plenty to play for when the locals visit the North Bay Bulldogs this coming Saturday.

For starters, wiping the 0 from their win column would go along way toward boosting the Spartans’ confidence amid a disappointing season that has seen their roster pared by injuries and work commitments. And make no mistake, they would love to play spoiler for a Northern Ontario rival that is looking to clinch top seed in the NFC.

But a strong finish to the 2023 regular season could mean much more in the long run, Labrosse said, as the Spartans look to rebuild the winning culture that helped them reach semifinals just one year ago.

“Play like they have played — play for pride,” said Labrosse, while watching a relatively small, but hard-working group of practice participants run through drills at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School on Wednesday evening. “Play for some personal goals — offence, get more points and defence, fewer points against. Take the game personally.

“You have to play the game to win the game. That’s what I want the guys to do an honestly, they have done it all year. We have been outmanned at a lot of positions and out of the six games we have had, I have never had a healthy roster, so that doesn’t help out either. But that’s what happens when you’re in a working community.”

With the NFC following a crossover format for quarter-finals once again, the Spartans will qualify for playoffs despite entering the final week of the regular season with a record of 0-5. After the Toronto Phantom Raiders took a leave of absence, the league fielded nine teams this summer, leaving just one club to miss the post-season. Oakville, also winless at 0-6, sits far behind Sudbury in the next tiebreaker category, points against, with a whopping 341 to Sudbury’s 134.

While it has been a tough go, Labrosse will be happy to see his regulars rewarded for their efforts, from a couple of heartbreaking, relatively close losses to the Sault and North Bay earlier in the year to a much more lopsided, but still hard-fought defeat against the league-leading Tri-City Outlaws just last weekend.

He expects another workmanlike performance in the Gateway City on Saturday.

Kickoff time is 7 p.m.

“They owe it to each other,” Labrosse said. “When you play, you don’t really play for your coach. You play for the guy who’s beside you on the field, the guy who’s in the trenches, and that’s what they have done all year, whether or not we have struggled in certain games. We scored quick on Saturday, guys were up and stuff, and there was no negativity on the bench. It was like OK, we’ll get it back next play and stuff like that. Defence is always playing for the pride of not getting scored on and to hopefully get the offence the ball back.”

Dressing only 28 players last weekend for their home game against the Outlaws, the Spartans did find the end zone first, only to fall in the end by a 30-point margin. Still, Labrosse and company saw positive signs on which to build moving forward.

“We were able to play,” Sudbury’s coach said. “It becomes a war of attrition when you don’t have the horses and a lot of guys are playing three ways. You can’t win a lot of games that way, because guys are just going to get tired, but the grinded it out and that’s what that have been doing all year.”

If Sudbury upsets North Bay, the Spartans will visit Tri-City in a quarter-final the following Saturday, July 29. The matchup will be the same if North Bay beats Sudbury and Tri-City wins its regular-season finale against Ottawa. If North Bay wins and Tri-City loses, however, North Bay will clinch top seed and face Sudbury yet again.

Quarter-final winners will have a bye for the Civic Holiday weekend, before reconvening for semis on Aug. 12.

“North Bay is not going to take us lightly,” Labrosse said. “That’s not how Marc Mathon coaches and that’s not how I coach, either.”

In their only other meeting on June 17, the Spartans put up 21 points against the Bulldogs for their best offensive outing of the season, but couldn’t blunt the Bulldogs’ attack, led by Hec Crighton winner Jordan Heather.

“We show things of brilliance at some points, but the inconsistency shows when guys are playing everywhere, or in positions they’re not familiar with,” Labrosse suggested. “You’re a DB, now you’re playing wide receiver and you have to learn the offence, or a D-lineman playing O-line. You kind of limit your playbook with those situations, but the guys aren’t complaining. They’re doing whatever it takes to try to succeed.”

Having witnessed the team’s highest highs and lowest lows during his own hall-of-fame playing career, Labrosse knows that regardless of result, his team can lay the foundation for another winner by establishing good habits in leaner times, then hopefully supplementing his dedicated core with graduates from the Junior Spartans U18 ranks.

“You take guys like Victor Paajanen, Nick Rideout, Tyler Bell — hopefully, a season like this doesn’t discourage them from coming out, but the thing is, what they’re learning from struggling is only going to make them better ball players come next year. That’s what I’m hoping every player takes out of this, not just the fact that we didn’t win a game. S—t happens, you get good seasons and you get bad ones — we went to semifinals last year and this year, we’re kind of rebuilding, because we lost key players here and there, but we have also gained guys like Bell, who didn’t play last year and he has been a pivotal part of this offence, a big playmaker. If guys like him can learn from this and not get discouraged and we get some fresh faces, who knows?”

Original Article