Patriots heading to NFC Championship with win over Sarnia

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Hamilton Today

Saturday night the Steel City Patriots punched their ticket to the 2019 Northern Football Conference Championship with a big 43-0 win over the Sarnia Imperials. The Patriots, on the road in Sarnia after a regular season loss to the Imperials, were looking to get revenge for that game and a loss to Sarnia in the 2018 NFC Semi-Final.

With a large crowd of travelling SCP fans cheering them on, the Hamilton defence took no time to set the tone of the game. Forcing multiple turnovers and not allowing the Sarnia offence get into rhythm, the Patriot defence continued their playoff shutout streak. Cornerback Tyler Bistrovich led the charge with 5 interceptions and Safety Ise Savory stripped the ball from Sarnia players to the tune of 2 fumble recoveries.

The Hamilton offense was again led by QB Graham Kelly who was 16 of 24 and 305 yards passing, 1 TD and 1 INT, and a rushing TD.

Patriot kicker Adam Pallet was 3 for 3 on field goals.

In the other NFC Semi, the GTA Allstars hosted the Ottawa Sooners with GTA coming away with a 35-13 win.

Stay tuned for 2019 NFC Championship details.

Source: Sam MacBeath

Short-handed Spartans no match for Sooners: Sudbury’s season ends in first-round defeat

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By Ben Leeson of the The Sudbury Star

Photo Credit: Ben Leeson

Erik Conrad could have spent the moments after his final football game of 2019 dwelling on the unfortunate, almost absurd set of circumstances that hampered his team’s efforts against the Ottawa Sooners on Saturday night.

He might have been forgiven for doing so, too, with not one, not two, but three quality quarterbacks watching the game in civilian clothes, the last one injured only days before the Northern Football Conference quarter-final, leaving the locals with only three practices to improvise an offence that had limited success in a 41-0 loss at James Jerome Sports Complex.

Instead, however, the all-star linebacker chose to focus on the effort itself, which he rated as high as any the Spartans put forth this season.

“Big shout-out to Riley Roy,” said Conrad of the defensive back-turned-QB, who had never taken an offensive snap prior to Saturday’s contest. “I mean, we lost an entire position group, the quarterbacks, and without hesitation, he steps up and, with confidence, plays the best he can. Three days, it’s hard to learn a whole offence for the playoffs, so a big shout-out to him and a lot of respect.”

Despite the score, Conrad was equally impressed with his comrades on defence, who dealt with poor field position throughout the evening, yet held the Sooners offence, led by former Spartans QB Travis Campbell, to just a pair of scores until things broke open late in the third quarter.

“This year was a lot of fun, playing with a lot of young guys like Ben Caccioti, Cole Kennedy, Victor Paajanen, I mean, those guys are 17 years old and playing with a bunch of men, and they balled,” Conrad said. “They made a lot of plays and I’m excited to watch them in high school, OUA, whatever direction they go. I’m just excited for them to come out, to learn at this level and play really well. There were some mistakes, but they’re ballers.”

That wasn’t enough to stop the Sooners, however, who had narrowly escaped Sudbury with a 25-28 victory just one week earlier, but returned with a larger, healthier lineup and renewed confidence to open the post-season.

Campbell got things started for the visitors with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alex Gauthier, with 1:50 left in the opening quarter, then led another march down the field before Remy John Cimakinda scored on a five-yard run.

Brandon McDonald ran 47 yards to the end zone with 2:13 left in the third frame and Ottawa only picked things up from there. Dylan Hines capped a drive with a one-yard rush and a major with 14:35 to go in the fourth, then Campbell found Gauthier with back-to-back TD passes of 20 yards, with 8:29 remaining, and 38, with 3:06 left on the clock.

“It feels great,” Campbell said. “I was a little nervous last week, coming in and playing guys I know and played with for seven years, so there was a little bit of pressure on me to perform and to make sure I was doing my best. This week, coming into the playoffs, we had a lot of guys coming back who we didn’t have last week, so that was a huge help.

“It’s nice when you have your whole team, you’re not missing half of it due to injuries, travelling light. We didn’t have a bus last week or this week, so we were missing guys just for that purpose, but the guys who came out, they wanted to come and play, they drove down, spent their day coming all the way out here and put everything they had into the game, and it’s great.”

With the momentum gained from back-to-back wins over the Spartans, the Sooners could be primed for a playoff run — Ottawa is the only team to beat defending-champion GTA, its semifinal opponent, though the champs had their own QB woes at the time.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time, but we know we have a great team and we think we can compete with anybody,” Campbell said. “We have shown that, we beat GTA earlier in the year and we fought them real hard the next week, even though it didn’t turn out the same way. We have been competitive in every loss we have had, so we think we’ll give anybody a fight.”

The Spartans will have to wait a year before making another attempt to advance past the first round of the playoffs, something the team has not done since re-entering the NFC in 2011, following a four-year leave of absence.

Head coach Junior Labrosse knew his crew would be in tough on Saturday, following the loss of starting QB Hunter Holub earlier in the year, then receiver/pivot Nick Rideout, and finally rookie Adam Rocha in the regular-season finale. It didn’t help that standout running back Josh Cuomo, though back in the lineup, was far from 100 per cent and nearly a non-factor in his typical role.

Still, like Conrad, Labrosse made it a point to praise his team’s attitude and approach to what proved its last game of the season.

“The effort was there and it has been there all year,” Labrosse said. “You can’t fault the guys for the type of game they played. Special teams, offence, defence, they all gave it 100 per cent, we just didn’t get the outcome we were looking for.

“When you lose three quarterbacks, of course you’re going to get the what-ifs, the woulda, coulda, shoulda. After every season that ends, if it doesn’t end in a championship, coaches will always dwell on that stuff — what if we called this, what if we had done that — but that doesn’t change the outcome. Of course, if we take away the injuries, would the game have been more competitive, would we have been able to push that defence? For sure. But I’m not taking anything away from the 12 guys who battled and who, in three days, tried to put in an offensive system with a kid who has never played quarterback. Hats off to Riley Roy for stepping in, playing both sides, defence and offence, and doing everything he could to try to get us good field position. Hats off to the O-line, too, for trying to give some glimpses of holes, for giving Riley time to try to throw some passes. And our defence, when you’re getting bad field position, it’s easier for quarterbacks to take deep shots, and that’s what they did.”

Sudbury’s coach complimented the Sooners, too, for taking care of business.

“They played a very good game,” Labrosse said. “They were the better team tonight.”

Following a breakthrough year on the recruiting front, aided in part by the collapse of the Sudbury Gladiators varsity program, and the success of rookies at several positions, the Spartans could be well-positioned for future success. Labrosse hopes their experience has been positive and will encourage many to return in 2020.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “I have coached seasons where you have a player who’s got potential, but he doesn’t come back the following season, because of work, school or whatever reasons. Next year is next year and we’ll see, when January, February rolls around, we’ll start to communicate and we’ll see. What are we going to get from our feeder system? Right now, I’m not sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

And whether the source was post-game emotion, or a serious pondering of his football future, Labrosse wasn’t prepared to speak with certainty about his future status as bench boss.

“You finish second in the division, you finish 5-3, it’s an accomplishment compared to how we finished last year,” Labrosse said. “We hosted another playoff game, but this losing in the post-season, not being able to get to the second round, is getting very tiresome. I don’t know how much more I can take of that.”

Steelers blank Bulldogs

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By – Sault Star

Next stop, Stoney Creek, Ont.

Having finished the Northern Football Conference regular season with a 29-0 victory in North Bay on Saturday, the Sault Steelers must immediately shift their attention to the start of the playoffs.

Having finished with a 4-4, win-loss record, the Sault is slated to visit the 6-2 Steel City Patriots next Saturday in Stoney Creek. The Steelers were sixth in the nine-team loop while the Patriots wound up in third place.

“They’re a good passing team with a good quarterback and a couple of good receivers,” Steelers player/coach Brandon Lewis said of the Patriots. “They’re a big team and they’re on a roll.”

In fact, the Patriots have won three straight.

In order to be competitive in Round 1 of the playoffs, “we’ll have to put everything together this week in order to go down there and be successful,” Lewis added.

That means additional numbers for a Sault which dressed just 19 players in North Bay, due, Lewis explained, to both work and family commitments.

Alanzo Clarke had a big game for the winners, running for three touchdowns while Stevan Hiiemaa ran for the other.

While game statistics weren’t available on Sunday, offensive coordinator Paul Caldbick estimated Clarke’s runs covered 55, 60 and 45 yards. Hiiemaa scored on a five-yard carry. Brady Smith converted all four TDs.

“Considering we had only 19 guys, we definitely played well,” said Lewis, whose club dropped the Bulldogs to 0-8 on the season. “We were good with Alanzo and Stevan Hiiemaa in the backfield. We had some new guys on the offensive line, but I thought the offence did quite well.”

Lewis also credited the defence, noting the strong play of linebackers Ray Duplin and Justin Cond.

“They’re amazing linebackers and our defensive backs were also solid in coverage.”

Patriots roll into playoffs with 44-3 win #HamOnt #HTPatriots

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By – Hamilton Today

On a steamy Saturday night in Stoney Creek, the Hamilton Steel City Patriots warmed up for playoffs with a 44-3 victory over the Tricity Outlaws.

Having locked up a Northen Football Conference playoff spot last week, the 5-2 Patriots hosted the visiting Outlaws (1-6), looking to secure home field advantage. This game was also a rematch from two weeks ago, an SCP win in Waterloo.

The Patriots defence led the way again, smothering the Outlaw offence with a blistering pass rush and stout run support. Cornerback Tyler Bistrovich scored a touchdown on a long interception return, with SCP only allowing 60 yards of offence and putting the QB down for four sacks.

On offence, the Patriots, led by QB Graham Kelly, showed off a dangerous air attack with receiving touchdowns from Archelaus Jack, Brandon Isaac, and Weston Aiton. The SCP ground game was in fine form as well getting long runs from Daniel Seymour and a TD from hard-hitting youngster Stephon Smith. Former Outlaw, FB Rob Bonds also added a rushing TD for the Patriots.

Next Saturday, July 27 the Patriots (6-2) open the NFC Playoffs at home, hosting the Sault Ste. Marie Steelers (4-4) at Cardinal Newman High School (127 Gray Rd, Stoney Creek) kickoff at 6pm. Gates open at 5pm, Admission is $10, Children under 12 are FREE!

Please help support the Patriots‘ partner sponsor, Purolator Courier, by bringing a non perishable food item for the Purolator Tackle Hunger Program.

Spartans stumble late, face rematch with Sooners to open playoffs

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By Ben Leeson of the The Sudbury Star

Photo Credit: Ben Leeson

Junior Labrosse woke up Sunday morning with the same two words on his mind that had been there when he walked off the James Jerome Sports Complex turf on Saturday night.

“Six minutes.”

That’s about how much time was left on the clock when, with his Sudbury Spartans leading the Ottawa Sooners 18-7, things began to unravel for the locals.

A wild sequence that began with what should have been a game-saving stand by the Sudbury defence, which included consecutive sacks on former Spartans pivot Travis Campbell, led to a missed field goal and a single for the Sooners, then a fumble and a TD for the visiting side.

Still nursing a four-point advantage, the Spartans turned the ball over yet again when first-year quarterback Adam Rocha threw an interception, also returned for a touchdown. One more turnover eventually led to another Ottawa major and a heartbreaking 28-25 defeat for Sudbury, which gave up top seed in the Northern Football Conference West Division and a favourable first-round matchup this weekend.

Instead, the Spartans, who finished the regular-season at 5-3, will again face the Sooners again on home turf, this coming Saturday at 7 p.m.

“That game slipped away in a period of six minutes,” said Labrosse, Sudbury’s head coach and offensive co-ordinator, when reached on Sunday afternoon. “And it wasn’t the fault of the defence at all. The defence played stellar, they did what they were asked to. They played out, we got an interception, we got sacks, we put pressure on. The one thing that has to be cleaned up is the chitter-chatter after, some players have to learn to shut their mouths, and not give us costly penalties, but apart from that, they played an A-1 game.”

Labrosse was just as pleased with the play of his offensive line, which has steadily improved over the course of the regular season, responding well to criticism by Labrosse early in the summer.

“They made holes when required,” Sudbury’s bench boss said. “Ottawa has a tough defence and we knew that and we prepped for it all week. We knew they’d bring the pressure, we knew they’d have a good front seven and a good secondary, that it was going to be a hard battle, but the O-line gave time for the quarterback to throw. They did what they were asked to.”

But Labrosse, who’s never too shy to call out a player on either side of the ball, said the wheels fell off on Saturday, at least in part, due to inexperience at the quarterback position and some questionable decision-making late in the contest.

Coaches wanted to keep the ball on the ground and to kill the clock, he explained, but their pivot had other ideas.

“He thought he knew better,” Labrosse said of Rocha. “He came to the sideline and coaches told him what to do, then he went out there and did what he thought. And that’s what drove me nuts.”

Knowing the young QB and serving as his coach in high school, Labrosse is hopeful he’ll take a lesson from the loss.

“A quarterback has got to learn if the defence is playing that well, you’ve got to help them out,” Labrosse said.

“The game plan should have been simple at that point. You’re up 18-7. Does it seem boring for a quarterback? Yes, because what does a quarterback want to do? He wants the touchdown passes, the glory, all of that. But No. 1, he has to be a leader and do what’s best for the team, period. If that means he’s got to stand there and hand off the ball 50 times in a game, if it’s going to cause us to win the game, that’s what a quarterback has go to do.”

Ottawa scored first, capping a grinding, back-and-forth first quarter with Bobby Massie’s reception, on a pass from Campbell, with 3:14 left in the opening frame. Sudbury responded in the second, however, when Rocha, who had narrowly missed connecting with Josh Duckett for an earlier TD, found his teammate in the end zone with 12:03 on the clock. Massimo Cimino, who had a strong game as both place-kicked and punter after some struggles against GTA the week before, added a field goal, then a single to give Sudbury an 11-7 halftime lead.

A fantastic TD catch by Nick Witzke, at the very back of the end zone, put the Spartans up 18-7 with 3:52 to go in the third. Sudbury nursed that lead until roughly the midway mark of the fourth, before the wild sequence that led to major scores by Ottawa’s Terrik Valcin, twice, and RJ Crisostomo.

The last of those meant Sudbury’s final drive, which ended on another touchdown pass to Witzke with no time remaining, wasn’t enough to change the outcome of the game, nor to prevent the Sarnia Imperials from leapfrogging into first in the West with their shutout of Tri-City.

Veteran defensive end Andrew Gillis said the result was a lesson not only for players on offence, but the entire team.

“It’s about playing a full 60-minute game,” Gillis said. “That’s all we can do and hopefully, we get better from there, we have a good week at practice and we can improve on the performance we put out today.”

While he acknowledged the frustration that follows when defensive players earn good field position, only to watch a team sputter on offence, Gillis said it’s important for the team to stick together and stay focused.

“You just have to go and do your job the whole game,” he said. “It’s hard to go back out there, but if you don’t, nobody else is going to, either. You just have to buckle up your chin strap, go at it and hope you can give the offence a few more chances with the ball and hope they can do something with it.”

If the team did have to lose on Saturday, Gillis said, he’s glad to have another crack at the Sooners.

“We know what they do on offence and we know what they do on defence,” he said. “It will be a completely different game after we look at film and have a good week of practice. It will be a different outcome, I’m sure.”

Labrosse, too, said for all their disappointment at missing the division title, it’s important the Spartans don’t forget the positives from their last performance and work to build on those.

“Any time you have a rematch with someone, it’s always a great opportunity,” Labrosse said. Now, let’s see what the guys have learned from this. You’re facing a team that has played you, so they’re going to make adjustments and we’re going to have to make adjustments, too. You might meet a totally different opponent. They may come with a different offensive system, and different defensive system, you don’t know, so you have to be prepared.”

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson