Defender’s dream night helps GCVI keep football title

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Defensive back Nathan Dixon of the Guelph CVI Green Gaels had to be expecting to wake up and find out it was all a dream during Friday night’s District 10 high schools football championship match at Alumni Stadium.

Dixon had a dream game on a night when the temperature hovered around minus-8 C, a performance where there was no doubt he was GCVI’s player of the game as he hauled down five interceptions to help spark the Gaels to a 16-7 victory over the St. James Lions.

“I just followed what I do in practice, followed the technique,” Dixon said. “I was looking at that ball in the air and I just ran right to it.”

“It was incredible,” GCVI coach Blair Rickers said. “You just don’t see that very often. That was amazing.

“I feel bad for the quarterback (Alex Baseggio). He was getting the ball out there and the receivers were coming up to make plays, it’s just that Nathan continued to come up and just broke on the ball well and did a great job.”

That Dixon’s interception total reached five was the biggest surprise to him.

“I was (surprised) after the fourth one,” he said. “It got me going.”

The Gaels worked on a few things at practice earlier in the week that paid off big for the Grade 11 student in the final.

“They had me shade over to their two main receivers and that was where they were going most of the time,” he said. “I kept going to wherever they were and wherever the quarterback looked.”

On a snow-covered field that needed the lines marking every five-yard distance shoveled off, traction was never going to be great. And the defences on both squads loved the hard-hitting action.

“It was a tough game,” Dixon said. “They have some really good players and I’m happy to play against them in the final again.”

“That was a real defensive struggle,” Rickers said. “They did an unbelievable job coming out and just stifling our running game. Tanner Nelmes ran the ball really well, especially in the second half when they started to establish their running game. We were fortunate again. Both teams played very hard and we obviously benefitted from a few turnovers. It was a great way to finish out the (D10) season.”

Brandon Ferigo, Josh Tran and Ben Boddy for GCVI and Nelmes for St. James had the majority of the carries and all had their moments, but long gains were few and far between.

“The field wasn’t really icy, but being so cold and the ball getting wet just made it difficult to throw to (the receivers),” Rickers said. “Again he was getting the ball out there, but we’ve been really stressing to Nathan just the importance of getting deep and coming up and making plays. Tonight he got deep and he came up and he made plays – play after play. He did a tremendous job.”

After GCVI established a lead in the first half, the Lions had to turn to the pass a little more in the second half. But cold hands made it difficult for most to catch the ball – most except Dixon, whose performance Friday night brought his interception total for the season to six.

The game had a single scoring play each quarter.

The Gaels jumped ahead early on Ferigo’s 10-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. Boddy kicked the convert.

GCVI’s Tran added an unconverted TD on a five-yard run in the second quarter.

The Lions closed the gap on a three-yard TD run by Nelmes with 16.2 seconds to go in the third quarter. Piotr Czachor added the convert.

Boddy secured the win for the Gaels when he kicked a 25-yard field goal with 27 seconds to go in the match.

The title victory was GCVI’s second consecutive D10 championship win over the Lions for their first back-to-back title wins since they hoisted the championship plaques in 1978 and ’79. It was also GCVI’s 10th overall D10 football title win according to the D10 website.

The loss was the third championship-game setback in four years for the Lions who are looking for their first D10 football title. St. James was defeated by GCVI by a single point last year and by Lourdes by 37 points in 2014. The Lions also lost to GCVI by a single point in the 2006 final.

The Gaels advance to play the Brantford CI Mustangs at Brantford’s NPC Gretzky Centre’s Bison Alumni Field in the CWOSSA semifinals Wednesday at 6 p.m.

“We’ve just got to go through, figure out what they’re doing and just keep working,” Dixon said.

“We have no idea what their offence is about and what their defence is about,” Rickers said. “We’ll try to get some clue of that over the weekend. We’ll go out and we’ll practise Monday and Tuesday. At this point, we are what we are. We’re going to go out and play our game and we’ll see what happens.

“We’re really excited to go to Brantford. It’s always cool to go see teams from different regions and we’re excited to represent Guelph. That’s really cool.”

Winner of Wednesday’s game gets a berth in the CWOSSA final Nov. 21 at Laurier’s University Stadium in Waterloo.

The CWOSSA champion is to play the Peel champion in the OFSAA Central Bowl Nov. 28 at 10 a.m. at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field.