Category: Team News

‘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

Zero is the number for the Steelers, host GTA All Stars in final home game of the season

For the Steelers (3-2), finishing third in the division is the best position they can achieve. Win or lose, the locals will open the post-season on the road against a yet to be determined team from the East Division.
Author of the article:Gordon Anderson | Sault Star
Published Jul 20, 2023

The Sault Steelers are looking to pitch a shutout, of sorts, in the regular season finale.

The steel curtain club closes out the regular season when the GTA All Stars come to town for a Saturday night matchup at Rocky DiPietro Field.

“We haven’t given up a touchdown at home this year,” Steelers offensive lineman and GM Jon Bujold told the Sault Star. “Almost all of our points given up have been on the road.”

The defence has surrendered 63 points this season; ranking them third in the nine-team league in terms of points allowed.

The club lost 22-6 to the Sarnia Imperials in Week 3 and 28-14 to the North Bay Bulldogs in Week 5. In the season opener, the Steelers earned a 15-6 road win over the Sudbury Spartans.

And while 56 points allowed is well within the range of respectable, Bujold says the leakage comes down to attendance and personnel choices.

“For semi pro team, the guys work so it’s hard to get our players and the depth to the road games,” Bujold said. “When you are missing key pieces on a road trip the defence is more porous than it actually is.”

The All Stars (4-1) come to town with an opportunity to finish the season with the top seed in the West Division should they win the ball game. The visitors could also finish first overall in the league should results elsewhere go their way.

“GTA are the defending NFC champs,” Bujold said. “They have a lot of experience but at home with our defence, I’d give us a chance against anybody to defend the home field.”

For the Steelers (3-2), finishing third in the division is the best position they can achieve. Win or lose, the locals will open the post-season on the road against a yet to be determined team from the East Division.

Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“Even though a win won’t secure us a home playoff game we still want to take pride we could finish with a 4-2 record with this young group,” Bujold said, noting the team hasn’t finished above the .500 mark since 2014.. “It would be big for this program to get a win over the defending champs and secure a winning record.”

Original Article

Last second loss drops Bulldogs from NFC’s unbeaten ranks

Special teams mistakes doomed the North Bay Bulldogs to their first loss of the season as they lost to the Ottawa Sooners 35-33 on the road Saturday night. Ottawa scored the game winning touchdown with two seconds left.
Author of the article:Greg Estabrooks | North Bay Nugget
Published Jul 17, 2023

The North Bay Bulldogs had a three-touchdown lead in Kanata on Saturday night but coughed it up, losing their first game of the season versus the Ottawa Sooners.

The Sooners scored a touchdown in the final seconds to stun North Bay 35-33. The Bulldogs are 4-1 on the year and Ottawa is 2-3.

North Bay lead 14-0 after one quarter. And 21-13 at halftime. The Bulldogs led 27-13 after three quarters but were outscored 22-6 in the fourth.

The loss spoiled another huge effort by the Bulldogs offence.

Jordan Heather put his hands a little tighter on the league Most Valuable Player award by completing 28 of 34 passed for 467 yards and five touchdowns.

Nick Laporte promised a big game and delivered one against the Sooners with 10 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Jacob Steringa had two receptions for scores, catching eight passes for 113 yards. Andre Landry had 88 yards receiving and added a score.

Special teams were a killer for the Bulldogs as they gave up two onside kicks to Ottawa. Coach Marc Mathon says those failures, and some other mistakes, really hurt.

“We allowed one of our converts to be blocked, we gave them shorts fields after the onside kick recoveries,” says Mathon, who adds the Bulldogs needed more possessions in the second half, as they only had the ball three times.

“One more drive for us would have sewn up the win, just on time alone,” says Mathon.

Mathon was referring to the fact that Ottawa scored the go-ahead touchdown with only two seconds left in the game.

Heather said special teams need to be worked on this week with the playoffs approaching.

“It all comes down to giving special teams the time it deserves. Special teams are one-third of the game, and we need to treat it that way moving forward,” says Heather.

“Our offence played really well but we need to be able to extend our own drives. Late in games we need to manage the clock a bit better and score when time is more in our favour,” says the Bulldogs quarterback.

No matter how the Bulldogs do next week in their season finale against Sudbury, North Bay will host a playoff game the week after (July 29) and Mathon says it could be Ottawa coming to town.

The Sudbury game still has meaning for North Bay as the Bulldogs are trying to get as high a seed as possible for the league semifinals and finals if they advance that far.

The Bulldogs host winless Sudbury next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Cundari Field.

Original Article

Spartans not hanging heads despite loss to Tri-City

Author of the article:Ben Leeson | The Sudbury Star
Published Jul 15, 2023

Neither a lopsided loss, nor a disappointing season has swayed Sudbury Spartans veteran Nicolson Christmas from strapping on pads each week.

“I have been playing football since I was 14,” said the defensive back turned running back, moments after a loss to the Tri-City Outlaws at James Jerome Sports Complex on Saturday night. “My teammates are like my second family and I don’t want to give that up. I enjoy it too much, so I just keep coming out.”

No surprise, then, that he found bright spots even in a 37-7 defeat against Tri-City, one of the top teams in the Northern Football Conference, which dropped the locals to 0-5 on the season. Despite fielding one of their smallest rosters this year, with only 28 men listed on the official scorer’s sheet, the Spartans managed to impress Christmas with their effort.

“Yes, absolutely,” he told The Sudbury Star, moments after the final horn on Saturday. “I trust all these guys and it’s great to play with the guys who want to be here.”

Sudbury did find the end zone first, after giving up a rouge on the opening kickoff, and Christmas capped an impressive march down the field with a three-yard TD in the first quarter.

A standout on defence for several seasons, Christmas has embraced a new role and a new position as a ball-carrier, while showing his versatility as an athlete. He netted 19 yards on the ground on Saturday, as well as eight receiving, for a Sudbury squad that frequently found itself under heavy pressure from the Outlaws’ defensive unit.

“It has been difficult — very difficult,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t played this position in 10 years, so it’s just learning old things over again and coming in with a different mind set, but it has been fun.”

Tri-City answered with its own impressive drive and, despite an admirable goal-line stand by the Sudbury defence, punched in a short TD of its own on a carry by Brandon Metz.

Another drive by the visitors came up short of the end zone, thanks to an interception by Spartans DB Andrew St. Amour, but the hosts were forced to concede a safety just before halftime, making it 17-7 at the break.

Outlaws receiver Anthony Powless got the scoring started in the second half with a 33-yard catch. Sudbury tried to answer as quarterback Nick Rideout found the likes of Tyler Bell and Brandon Salem with passes in the third quarter, while also scrambling well for a couple of gains, only to come up short of a scoring play. Tri-City’s interception early in the fourth led to a TD catch by Connor Depodesta, this time for 38 yards, before quarterback Spencer Bollman found some space to rush in for a 19-yard major.

Richmond Nketiah’s 10-yard catch rounded out the scoring.

Despite being undermanned and clearly fatigued, the Spartans showed a glimmer or two late in the contest. Andrew Rocha entered the game at quarterback, allowing Rideout to move to receiver, and made an impressive 10-yard rush of his own. Christmas also posted his biggest gain on the ground in the final frame, for 12 yards.

“It is tough, but you do the best that you can with what you have,” said Christmas, when asked about playing with such a short bench. “That’s all the coaches expect from us and that’s what we expect from ourselves.”

Despite their winless record, the Spartans remain alive in the NFC playoff hunt and can even rise in the standings this coming Saturday with a win over the much-improved North Bay Bulldogs, in what will serve as Sudbury’s regular-season finale.

Kickoff in the Gateway City is set for 7 p.m.

“Everyone needs to show up and have a positive mind set,” Christmas said. “If we do that and we play like we did today, I think we have a good shot.”

Original Article