Brother act helps Ross Royals put brakes on losing skid

GUELPH – With the Jean-Gaston brothers leading the offence, the Ross Royals surpassed their win total of a year ago as they opened the District 10 high school football season with a 35-12 victory over the Lourdes Crusaders Thursday at Lourdes.

“It’s exciting, but I’m not really thinking about that,” Ross running back Teo Jean-Gaston said after a three-touchdown outing. “I’m thinking about the team and I’m thinking about the big win we had and just focusing on what we can do next to get better.”

“We’re pretty good,” quarterback Niko Jean-Gaston said. He scored two touchdowns on quarterback keepers, reaching into the end zone with the ball for one of them. “It’s my first year as starting quarterback and I haven’t played with this team before. I’m just getting the feeling of how we all play. We did good. A couple of penalties hurt us, but we’re just getting used to it.”

The win put an end to an eight-game losing streak for the Royals in regular-season play. They were winless last year, dropping all five of their games, and Ross also lost its final three games of the 2017 season after starting with a pair of wins, the last one being a seven-point win over the Bishop Macdonell Celtics Sept. 28.

“We didn’t have a win, but we’re not thinking about that right now,” Teo Jean-Gaston said. “We’re just thinking about the now and about next week and St. James and what we’re going to do to beat them.”

“We looked at it last week when we had an exhibition controlled scrimmage,” Ross coach Tim Mathewson said. “After the game we were ‘Oh man, we’re ahead of last year.’ It’s a great start.”

For the Jean-Gaston brothers, it’s just following in their older brother’s footsteps.

“My oldest brother, back when I was in Grade 4, his elementary school teacher got him interested in football,” Teo said. “Ever since then we’ve been a football family.”

“Our oldest brother, Brian, he did go to Ross and his Grade 8 teacher (Bill Brown) coaches at the University of Guelph and told him about football,” Niko said. “He came back and said he wanted to play football and all of us little brothers just followed him. He played at Ross and all of us just wanted to be like him, the older brother. So we all just went to the back yard and played football with the neighbourhood boys. And then we all signed up that year with me a Teo on the same team as little kids with Guelph Bears. From there we just loved it.”

It’s a large family with seven boys and a girl so there are likely more Jean-Gastons in the Ross football future. Manny, in Grade 9, is on the team this year.

However, make no mistake that it’s football-first with the Jean-Gastons. It’s education first and that’s why Niko didn’t play with the Royals last year.

“Last year I was focusing on school because my school was kind of low,” Niko said. “But I’ve got school up now so I’ve earned – my mom said I could go back playing football so now I’m back this year with the team. This game, I was getting used to my first year with them.”

Niko wasn’t completely out of football as he played with the Guelph Junior Gryphons in Ontario Provincial Football League’s junior varsity division and helped the locals win the regional rep junior varsity title. Niko was the MVP of the championship game.

After a scoreless first quarter Thursday, the Royals got rolling in the second quarter when they scored four touchdowns – two each by the brothers. Teo added his third TD in the fourth quarter while Max Nixon converted all five touchdowns.

“The key was just trusting – trusting my players, trusting my teammates, trusting the guy to my left and trusting the guy to my right that he has my back and just trusting him in doing that,” Teo said. “That’s what made our team successful today.”

Lourdes entered the game as basically fresh-faced football players who didn’t have any football miles on their bodies as they didn’t have any preseason scrimmages or games.

“We didn’t have anything like that,” Lourdes coach Joe Camilleri said. “This was our first interaction. We go head up during practice, but this was the first game-speed action we’ve had. We had a bit of a lull in the second quarter where we gave up 21 points real quick. Take them 21 points away and it’s a very close game. We did score a little bit late in garbage time, but we went through a five- or six-minute lull where we gave up 21 points. That makes the whole difference in the game.”

The Crusaders got all of their points in the second half with Matteo Mammolitti returning a Ross fumble 95 yards for a third-quarter TD and Jakub Hosford hauled in a 25-yard pass from QB Ethan Bizjack for a fourth-quarter TD.

“We would have definitely benefited from an exhibition game, but we couldn’t set one up,” Camilleri said. “We had one set up and it cancelled at the last minute. Experience is going to do us wonders. We have a quarterback that’s never played quarterback before. We have running backs that have never played running back before. We have linebackers that have never played linebacker before. The only thing that’s going to get this team better is experience.”

However, time isn’t a luxury in a six-team league where two don’t qualify for the playoffs.

“Unfortunately again this year only the top four make playoffs so we don’t have the games where we can say ‘OK, let’s work on this in Week 1 and work on this in Week 2. As long as we’re better for playoffs, we’re going to be fine,’ Camilleri said. “We don’t have that this year again.”

If all the players remain with the Crusaders, their future could be bright.

“The only thing that we’re going to need right now is experience,” Camilleri said. “Out of this team that’s here right now, over the next three years we lose one guy – our middle linebacker. So for the next three years we have 35, 40 guys bought in. Experience is going to get us better and hopefully it’s enough to get us a few wins. Our team goal right now is to make the playoffs and if we can do that, it’s going to be good.”

For the Royals, they’re looking at making a splash this year.

“This is a statement game,” Teo Jean-Gaston said. “We let everybody know that we’re contenders and that we’re coming for that championship. This game definitely sent the message.”

“We think the sky’s the limit,” Mathewson said. “We think there’s still a lot in there.”

League play resumes Friday with a pair of games as the defending champion St. James Lions host the Guelph CVI Green Gaels at 12 noon and the Centennial Spartans host the Bishop Macdonell Celtics at 3 p.m.

 

  • Guelph Sports Journal