Bishop Mac finally gets to hold championship plaque aloft
GUELPH – The Bishop Macdonell Celtics put an end to their 37-year District 10 high school football championship drought Friday night at Alumni Stadium.
A lengthy drive that culminated in a last-minute touchdown lifted the Celtics to a 16-13 victory over the defending champion Centennial Spartans.
“It feels great. It’s been a long time coming,” Bishop Mac coach Justin Shoniker said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs, but this team is a special team. I’ve been telling these guys all year it’s a special group so it feels unbelievable.”
While there were the usual pressures of championship night and playing in front of a large crowd at the stadium, the Celtics went into the game pretty loose. Everything pregame seemed to be pointing away from them in terms of a championship win.
The Celtics had to hold their practices at the stadium as their home field at the school was torn up behind construction fences for the start of the building of a south end recreation facility that is to include an artificial turf field.
And two-way player Marco Piccioni, reigning Fitzy winner as last season’s most outstanding player in the league, was suspended for the game as a mistaken identity of the player who made a helmet-to-helmet hit on a fumbled punt return in the St. James Lions’ enzone in the late stages of the semifinal win over the Lions was corrected. Sam Shoniker had originally been identified as that player – both he and Piccioni wear gold helmets while most of their teammates wear white ones – and was ejected from the game.
“He’s not only a team leader, he’s basically the best at his position in two positions on the field, offence and defence, so you can’t replace a kid like that,” coach Shoniker said of Piccioni. “You just have to have all the other kids step up. We moved some kids around and some kids played out of position and they did a phenomenal job off three days of practice. Good news is we’ve got him back going into CWOSSA so we’ll see what happens.”
Centennial jumped ahead early as quarterback Jackson Leshuk broke loose for a 42-yard run to the endzone midway through the first quarter. Mohamed Idris added the convert.
The Celtics closed the gap to a single point by halftime as Dimitri Grieb booted a pair of field goals.
Bishop Mac went ahead for the first time with just under two minutes left in the third quarter with his third consecutive field goal.
That lead held up until Leshuk bulled his way into the BM endzone on a five-yard play to put the Spartans up 13-9 with 3:35 to go. Centennial appeared to get a two-point convert, but it was negated by a penalty and their second attempt was stopped.
Then the Celtics trotted on the field to begin their winning drive at their own 45-yard line. The drive took 10 plays and included three successful third-down gambles including the touchdown toss.
The drive, in order, included a pass left from QB Alex Iacocca to Philip Oates, pass right to Bobby Tsilogianis, run by Tsilogianis, third-down run by Tsilogianis for to the Centennial 40 after he took a direct snap and two incomplete passes.
Then came the play that set up the touchdown. On third-and-10 with 1:56 to go, Iacocca connected with Oates on a pass play down the middle and Oates stayed upright as long as he could, eventually being hauled down at the Centennial 14.
Centennial was ready for a run by Tsilogianis, and stopped him for a loss of a yard. A pass to Seth Nelson as he ran a route that took him westward across the field fell incomplete as the ball was batted down.
On third down, the Celtics came back with the same time, Nelson grabbing the ball just outside the goal-line, but his momentum carried him into the black-and-rd checkerboard of the endzone. After considering trying a two-point convert, the Celtics on a single-point convert that Grieb booted.
Centennial got the ball back with 53.0 seconds to go and did move it into the Bishop Mac end, but an attempted long bomb into the endzone fell incomplete and the Spartans were left with a lengthy (by high school standards) 40-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the game, but it went left of the mark. Bishop Mac returned the wide field goal just outside their endzone, took a knee and the celebration began.
“We kept using the word resilient all year,” coach Shoniker said. “It couldn’t be a more resilient group. They just dug in today and decided not to be beat.”
Bishop Mac, who hadn’t won the D10 title since the school’s relocated from downtown Guelph to its current southend location in 2004 (the downtown school closed in 1995), advance to a CWOSSA semifinal against the Athletic Association of Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk Counties (AABHN) champion Assumption Lions of Brantford Thursday at 3 p.m. at Brantford’s Bisons Alumni North Park Sports Complex.
“We’re going to have to find some film or find something and prepare,” coach Shoniker said.
Assumption surprised St. John’s Green Eagles 13-9 in the AABHN final a week ago. St. John’s had finished first at 4-0-0 and had outscored their opponents by 133 points while Assumption was second at 3-1-0 and had outscored their opponents by five points, that number being low largely due to a 42-7 loss to St. John’s Oct. 20.
The other CWOSSA semifinal between Laurel Heights Highlanders of Waterloo and Resurrection Phoenix of Kitchener is to start Thursday at 2 p.m. at Waterloo Warriors Field.
Laurel Heights won the Waterloo County Secondary School Athletics Association (WCSSAA) final 21-7 over the Bluevale Knights of Waterloo Saturday night at Warriors Field. Laurel Heights had gone 5-0-0 in the regular season and hadn’t allowed a point against.
Resurrection edged St. Benedict Saints of Cambridge 6-5 in a low-scoring District 8 Athletic Association final Nov. 3 at Warriors Field. The Phoenix and Saints had tied for first in the three-team league with 3-1-0 records.
Resurrection also defeated perennial Bluewater Athletic Association (BAA) champion St. Mary’s Mustangs of Owen Sound 38-0 in the lone CWOSSA quarter-final Friday afternoon at Owen Sound’s Victoria Park. St. Mary’s and Saugeen Royals of Port Elgin had finished tied for first at the end of the regular season with 4-1-0 records, but Saugeen had been upset by Owen Sound Wolves 21-15 in the league semifinals. St. Mary’s blanked Owen Sound 19-0 in the BAA final Tuesday.
CWOSSA semifinal victors are to clash in the CWOSSA final Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium. CWOSSA champion gets a berth in the Northern Bowl against the NWOSSAA (Northwestern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletics Association) champions Nov. 27 at 1 p.m. in the provincial OFSAA Football Bowls Series at Windsor’s Acumen Stadium.
- Guelph Sports Journal