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