Author of the article Ben Leeson | The Sudbury Star
Published Jun 03, 2023
The Sudbury Spartans will be eager for a second round against the Sault Steelers this coming weekend, having taken one on the chin from their Northern Football Conference rivals on Saturday night.
But it won’t matter who their opponent is, Sudbury head coach Junior Labrosse said, if the locals don’t perform better than they did in their season debut at James Jerome Sports Complex, which ended in a 15-6 decision for the visiting Sault squad.
“They beat us, plain and simple,” Labrosse said later. “A better team came out and basically kicked our ass.”
The Spartans not only failed to execute on offence, he said, but didn’t make the proper adjustments on defence — problems he hopes to rectify with another solid week of practice, and with the same kind of turnout his team began to enjoy this past Wednesday.
“You need to know the system,” Labrosse said. “This isn’t pickup hockey or a scrimmage in soccer, just passing the ball around. Everything is a chess piece and you need to know what your fellow teammates are doing, et cetera. It’s a unit of 12 on the field and that’s not what I saw today.”
There were bright spots for the home side early, with quarterback Nick Rideout quickly rediscovering his chemistry with former Lively District Secondary School teammates Tyler Bell and Victor Paajanen. Rideout connected with the latter receiver for a 48-yard major with 1:11 left in the first quarter to open the scoring, but the ensuing point-after attempt was blocked.
An errant snap, one of a handful on Saturday, forced the Spartans to concede a safety with 1:38 remaining in the half, then former Sudbury standout Dan Leduc made a 75-yard catch and run of his own to give the visitors a 9-6 advantage.
Sudbury made a couple of big plays just before halftime, including a highlight-reel reception by Bell that caused the crowd to erupt, but he and his teammates couldn’t find the sideline before the horn.
“We just need numbers consistently at practice to build our consistency in-game,” said Bell, echoing his coach’s sentiments. “We just started getting the numbers at practice, so it’s hard to run and get your stuff installed and know the timing, know all your assignments properly when you’re constantly switching new people in to get the work done. This week, we just need to get the consistency down, so everyone knows what they have to do.”
Taylor Holub’s 12-yard TD catch with 7:06 to go in the third quarter gave the Sault a nine-point lead. Sudbury had a chance to answer in the fourth, after a goal-line stand and a fumble recovery, snuffing out Brock Hoover’s efforts on a 52-yard run, but Rideout threw an interception.
Forced to take chances and stretch out the field, Sudbury’s QB was able to find the likes of Bell and Paajanen on a couple more passing plays, but one more pick with just seconds remaining put even the faintest hope of a comeback out of reach.
Despite a few such miscues, Bell believes there’s a lot for the Spartans offence to build on in the coming weeks.
“There’s chemistry with me, Victor, Rideout, and also chemistry with every other receiver that we have,” suggested Bell, adding that he sees similar potential in the team as a whole.
“After another week, I really hope to see a better outcome of a game. We can do it, for sure.”
Labrosse was less upbeat, even offering his apologies to fans for a sub-par performance, but just as determined as Bell to achieve a different result when the Spartans kick off at Rocky DiPietro Field in Sault Ste. Marie this coming Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter who we play — we have to correct every single thing we did not do today,” he said. “We didn’t execute at all. Even defensively, we weren’t aggressive contesting balls thrown from the defensive secondary, we let a lot of soft passes be caught. One formation they sent us, the defence did not adjust. Maybe other teams will throw the same things at us, so it doesn’t really matter who we play on Saturday. But do we want to redeem ourselves? For sure.”