Ross Royals rally in final half to grab third-place finish
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH — The Ross Royals sure must have enjoyed the final half of their Friday night District 10 high school football game at Alumni Stadium against the Centennial Spartans.
“When we play well, we have fun and when we have fun, we play well,” Ross running back Eton Merritt said after the Royals scored four touchdowns in the final half of this year’s regular season to claim a 42-21 win. “It’s a cycle that’s just the greatest feeling ever. It’s great to do it again the people we lost D10 to last year.”
The Spartans had won last year’s D10 title when they came back from a 14-0 deficit for a 16-14 win for Centennial.
“It was a little bit like our final game last year,” Ross coach Tim Mathewson said. “We got up 14-0 and we had dominated pretty well for most of the game, but kind of stalled for a bit. Then they mounted the big comeback, only this time it happened earlier and we managed to swing things back in our favour.”
Ross led 14-6 at the end of the first quarter before Centennial surged ahead 21-14 by halftime. The Royals tied it up with a converted touchdown in the third quarter and then surged ahead in the fourth.
Merritt ran in for three touchdowns while Georges Carrier scored a touchdown and a two-point convert and Elijah Jimenez and Joel Nixon scored one TD apiece. Jordan Bauer kicked four converts.
“Honestly, the O line stepped up a lot today,” Merritt said of his TDs. “I really had no trouble going into the endzones those times just because the holes were so big. Our blocking was great and we had the lucky passes every once in a while. It was just a combination of our offence that led to our success and me taking the credit for their hard work.”
Jackson Taylor ran in for two touchdowns for Centennial while Tommy Nield caught a TD pass from Dakota Brown. Thomas Ness scored a two-point convert and Ben Lane kicked a convert.
“It’s definitely a good last game to have before the playoffs to get us ahead and to get our motivation and confidence back up,” Merritt said.
“We’ve been talking all year that it doesn’t matter where we start, it matters where we end up,” Mathewson said. “We want to get better every week. Our goal this week was to finish strong and peak at the right time. Peak when you’re going into the playoffs. It took us all year, but I think we put a full game together and put everything together.”
While the Royals left the field feeling good about themselves, the Spartans walked off knowing they’ll have to do better to have a chance at retaining the title.
“The wheels just fell off in the fourth quarter and we just couldn’t do anything right,” Centennial coach Brad Rion said. “We definitely have our moments, but we just can’t piece together four quarters. When we have a good quarter, we’re untouchable on all aspects of the game. It’s just we can’t put it together for a whole game right at the moment.”
Both teams get a week to prepare to opening the playoffs by hosting a quarter-final match.
“Pretty much (we’ve got to) keep doing what we’re doing,” Merritt said. “In practice, just keep working hard. Keep adding some new plays, maybe some trick plays or whatever. Just stuff to keep it fresh and to keep the players motivated to push through the next game and keep on going to the finals.”
“We’ll look at film and make sure the guys don’t take anything lightly,” Mathewson said. “We had a big win here, but we’ve got to take BM seriously and we’ve got to get better every week. Nothing’s changed. We’ve still got to get better every week.”
“We’ll just forget about this game, move forward and look forward to Lourdes,” Rion said. “This game is what it is. It’s done and it’s playoffs now.”
In Friday’s other game, the St. James Lions downed the Lourdes Crusaders 16-0.
The Lions finished atop the standings at 5-0 and were followed by the Guelph CVI Green Gaels at 4-1, Ross at 3-2, Centennial at 2-3, Lourdes at 1-4 and the Bishop Macdonell Celtics at 0-5.
The playoffs are to start with quarter-finals next Friday. Ross is to host Bishop Mac at 3 p.m. and Centennial and Lourdes are to clash at Alumni Stadium starting at 7 p.m.
The semifinals are set for Nov. 4 at Alumni Stadium. St. James is to play in the 4 p.m. game and GCVI in the 7 p.m. game.
Semifinal victors advance to Nov. 11’s championship game.
St. James 16 Lourdes 0
A game that meant absolutely nothing in the standings turned into a real defensive battle.
Both teams were already locked into their finishing positions as the Lions would finish first and the Crusaders fifth no matter the outcome.
That didn’t stop the squads from going toe-to-toe, both turning in their best defensive efforts of the season.
“I think that was the best defence I’ve ever seen at St. James in 16 years, 17 years,” Lions coach Jeff Cummings said. “It was, to me, perfect defensive football.”
“That definitely sounds right to me,” Lions linebacker Brody Nelmes said. “We definitely showed up today and we played to our best.”
“We played our best game of the year,” Lourdes coach Joe Camilleri said. “We said progression, not perfection, so we want to keep getting better every week and we played our best game of the year today.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Lions jumped ahead in the second quarter on a safety and then an unconverted touchdown by running back Tanner Nelmes.
The third quarter was scoreless and the Lions completed the scoring on another TD by Tanner Nelmes and a two-point convert catch by Devon Proctor.
While the game meant nothing in terms of the final standings, it did mean something for the Lions as they wanted to remain undefeated.
“We didn’t want to shy away from the 5-0 talk,” Cummings said. “We, in fact, embraced it. We challenged guys all week and we ramped up the intensity with players. Even the players who’d be considered to be our star players, we didn’t think we’d been doing them enough service. We wanted to test them. We ramped up the intensity with them all week and they responded today to every challenge we gave them.”
The Lions will have two weeks to get set for a semifinal.
“We’ll get healthy,” Cummings said. “We’re banged up and we want to give them a little time not just for physical health but mental health. The football season is long and the guys are tired. We want to give them a little bit of a break and then we’ll get focused on the semifinals the next week.”
“I want to see what can get thrown at us,” Brody Nelmes said. “We’re going to prepare our best, work hard and try to keep the intensity up. We’ll just keep it moving.”
There’ll be no rest for the Crusaders as they’ll spend this week getting ready for a quarter-final match with Centennial.
“We’ve just got to keep doing the same thing we keep doing,” Camilleri said. “We had a rough week of practice this week. We had low numbers, 18 guys, but we still battled and we battled hard. Now as coaches we’ve got to go in and put the right game plan in place. We’ve got to put guys in places where we’re going to succeed next week. It’s all hands on deck. There’s no turning back now.”