Spartans slow starters in loss to Bulldogs, but see encouraging signs

Author of the article:Jeff Giffen | The Sudbury Star
Published Jun 18, 2023

A former star quarterback at the university level is taking the Northern Football Conference by storm this season, and it didn’t take the Sudbury Spartans long to figure out why on Saturday night.

Spartans slow starters in loss to Bulldogs, but see encouraging signs

Jordan Heather of the North Bay Bulldogs came out throwing darts, helping his team jump out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead, en route to a 39-21 victory at James Jerome Sports Complex. The Spartans dropped to 0-3, while the Bulldogs improved to 3-0, having scored 120 total points in those games.

A native of Oromocto, N.B., Heather was a standout for the Bishop’s Gaiters a decade ago and is now a captain employed at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay, which is how he ended up with the Bulldogs. Heather completed 17 of 24 passes against the Spartans for a total of 271 yards, including three TD passes.

The Spartans offence finally showed signs of life late in the first half, but trailed 19-0 going into the break — actually, 19-1 as it turned out. A single point was awarded to Sudbury during halftime, but was the result of the opening kickoff. It didn’t show on the scoreboard until the officials reviewed at halftime and ruled it a rouge since the ball had bounced out of bounds in the end zone.

Sudbury head coach Junior Labrosse was disappointed his team didn’t start on time, knowing they’d be up against the top university football player in Canada from 2013.

“You’ve got to play four quarters, right? You come out flat against a quarterback that’s a Hec Crighton award winner, broke CIS records, won a national championship out in Alberta in the men’s league out there,” Labrosse said. “I found that the guys pulled themselves together in the third quarter, our offence finally started to roll — but, you know, too little, too late.”

After losses of 15-6 and 10-1 to the Sault Steelers in their first two games of the season, the explosion of offence for the Spartans in the second half was encouraging, even if in defeat. With the score 26-1 late in the third quarter, Brandon Salem rumbled in from one yard out to cut the lead to 26-8. After a successful onside kick, Sudbury marched downfield again and counted another TD when Nick Rideout muscled the ball over the line on a quarterback sneak, with a little help from his friends, again from the one-yard line. After a blocked point-after attempt and another rouge for the Spartans on the kickoff, the score was 26-15 with 12:37 remaining in the fourth frame.

Heather broke it back open again a couple of minutes later, however, finding his favourite receiver, Jacob Steringa, for a 62-yard TD pass that took the wind out of Sudbury’s sails.

Rideout did connect with Victor Paajanen on a pretty 36-yard touchdown pass that dropped into the receiver’s arms as he streaked down the right sidelines with 1:25 left in the game to make it 33-21, but North Bay added another major in the dying seconds to close out the scoring.

Rideout, who completed nine of 19 passes for 119 yards, was disappointed with the result, but somewhat encouraged by progress in a few areas.

“There were definitely some positives, we were looking better on a lot of aspects,” he said. “We did have a lot of mental mistakes, which is what I think really cost us. In the first two games, we put up seven points total and we got more than double that in this game, so that’s a positive.

“We’re not where we should be. We do have some talent and players that can make stuff happen. But it comes down to numbers and it comes down to effort. We’ve been lacking a little bit at practice and in order to get better we can’t have practice like that. We need to have everybody there working and giving their full effort.”

Rideout also ran the ball for 98 yards, which was more than all of the running backs combined.

Labrosse said his new quarterback is coming along just fine, but he can’t be the team’s only running game and his targets also need to hold onto the ball.

“Nick Rideout’s an athlete, it doesn’t matter, we could put him on offence, defence, kicks,” he said of his pivot’s versatility. “We can’t have dropped passes. We’re a struggling offence, receiver’s wide open and we drop the ball. But Nick’s not the type of guy to complain or bitch a guy out, like dude, you should have caught it. He’ll put the onus on himself … maybe I threw it too hard or too deep or whatever. The receivers should be lucky to have a quarterback like him. He would rather blame himself.

“But dude, look at yourself in the mirror. You dropped the ball. In a game of inches, you can’t afford those drops. That could be a swing in the game.”

For his part, Rideout believes staying positive in the face of adversity is the only path to success.

“No matter what, we have to remain positive, because the second you start turning on yourselves is the second you start crumbling,” Rideout said. “I feel like the reason we were able to come back is that we were keeping positive. If someone messed up — hey, next play, next play mentality. Just forget what happened, there’s always a next play.

“We’re going to have to turn it around quick, that’s for sure. Three games left, if we want a chance of making playoffs, I think we’re going to have to win out, or at least win two of the next three, so there’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done.”

The Spartans men’s team will head to Ottawa to face the Sooners this coming Saturday.

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