Lions finally get to hoist D10 football championship plaque
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH – After so many championship-game disappointments in their past, the St. James Lions weren’t about to take any chances with Friday night’s District 10 high school football final at Alumni Stadium.
In the end, it was the Centennial Spartans who were thrown to the Lions.
“I’m almost numb,” St. James coach Jeff Cummings said moments after his team was presented with the championship plaque. “It felt right today.”
“It feels amazing. I can’t even put it into words,” St. James quarterback Jakob Tomas said. “It just feels amazing.”
“They’re a really strong team,” Centennial coach Zach Pollari said. “Tanner (Nelmes) and his O-line, a great running back and they have some really great players on defence, too. Their D-line really stepped it up tonight. It’s been a long time coming. Well deserved.”
St. James got the game into a straight-time situation by the end of the first half on their way to a 50-16 victory over Centennial for their first ever D10 football crown.
“That we weren’t expecting,” Cummings said. “Sometimes the game gets out of control like that early and you get a good momentum and you’ve got to roll with it. You’ve got to keep the gas on.”
“No one expected this,” Tomas said of the score. “It shocked everyone. To get our No. 2s in at quarterback and everything, that felt great because they work hard at practice, too. For them to get the credit, too, that feels nice.”
Once a team establishes a lead of 36 points or more, the game clock is only stopped for scores and injuries.
“It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to play the way we can in this game,” Pollari said. “But that’s a part of football. Every time you step on the field, if you don’t put your best foot forward you’re going to get smacked in the mouth and that’s what happened.”
St. James had been to the final before, but had always come out on the short end of the score. They’d lost 16-7 to the Guelph CVI Green Gaels last year, 38-37 to the Gaels in 2016, 37-0 to the Lourdes Crusaders in 2014 and 27-26 to the Gaels in 2006.
QB Tomas was a member of the Lions for those last two title-game defeats.
“This is a redemption-type thing,” he said. “No one said we could do this and just proving everyone who believes in us, it feels good. It just feels good.”
This time, though, the Lions had running back Tanner Nelmes. He proved hard to stop as he found his game in the last month and also found the Centennial end zone for the first three TDs of the game.
“It’s different when you have the best player in the league. You just feel different,” Cummings said. “In years past we’ve always gone up against a guy from another team who is talented like Tavius (Robinson) or Jake Reinhart, Nick FitzGibbon, Mike Fauld, Justin Dunk. We had Tanner Nelmes this year and we felt pretty good about that.”
Pawel Syzmanski was judged to be the player of the game for the Lions as he returned an interception for a TD and he also caught a pass from quarterback Jakob Tomas for another TD.
Tomas himself ran in for a TD and two two-point converts.
“It’s just trusting my teammates,” Tomas said as his key to the game. “I’ve got great teammates and it’s just putting the ball in their hands and I hope they can do the work.”
The other TD for the Lions, the final one, came when Peter Czachor ran a fake field goal in during the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Czachor also kicked two converts.
“With all respect to them, we’ve got to keep the gas on,” Cummings said. “We weren’t about to slow down. You’ve got to keep the gas on because they’re dangerous. We weren’t about to stop. They could get back in the game very quickly.”
QB Daniel Brown was Centennial’s player of the game for his efforts. He ran in a TD a little past the halfway mark of the third quarter for Centennial’s first score and he connected with receiver Nathan Sloot for the second TD late in the fourth quarter. Drake Davis also caught a two-point convert pass and the Spartans picked up a safety in the final minute.
The Lions came into the final off a good week of practice and they were feeling pretty confident.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Cummings said. “I knew we’d win the game. We were so well prepared. With all due respect to them, we felt we had done everything we needed to do. We were pretty vanilla with them the last time we played them and we thought that we were going to be a lot better this time and we were.”
“We had the confidence that we were going to win, but not the cockiness,” Tomas said. “The swagger, coach says.”
St. James had defeated Centennial 41-27 in their regular-season meeting Oct. 12.
While the Spartans left the field disappointed with the outcome, they’ll eventually look at the season as a successful one and they may have put down the foundation for a even more successful season next year. Of the Spartans who were in the final, only three are fifth-year players.
“We got some things done this year,” Pollari said. “It’s never good being on the losing end of a lopsided victory, but you still learn a lot. You learn about your character and what kind of player you are. I’m really, really proud of our team and the way they fought to the end despite the score.”
The Lions advance to the CWOSSA quarter-final game against the St. Mary’s Mustangs of Owen Sound who won the D1/7 championship 6-3 over the Owen Sound Wolves Friday afternoon. That game is to go next Friday at 3 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.
“At this point, we don’t know too much (about St. Mary’s),” Cummings said. “We’re going to give ourselves a night to give these guys a rest, but we’re going to treat the rest of the week like a regular week. We had planned at the beginning of the season to be continuing past the Districts so here we are.”
Including playoff wins, St. Mary’s is 6-1-0 on the season while St. James is 7-0-0.
Winner of the CWOSSA quarter-final will host the D8 champion in a semifinal match Nov. 15.
The CWOSSA final is set for Nov. 20 at Cambridge’s Jacob Hespeler Secondary School.