Lions finish unbeaten season with District 10 title
GUELPH – There was just no denying the St. James Lions of their second ever District 10 high school football crown Friday.
The Lions scored a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter on their way to a 23-7 victory over the defending champion Ross Royals on a breezy day at St. James.
St. James Lions 23 Ross Royals 7
The Lions become the first team to win the title on their home field since the Royals defeated the Lourdes Crusaders for the championship in 2013. All the championship games between those two games were played at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium.
“It’s amazing,” St. James coach Jeff Cummings said. “What a feeling after the last two years to be in this position and be able to win a championship at our school. It is absolutely thrilling — in front of my kids, my family, all the student body out, our staff was out. It’s amazing.”
“It’s amazing,” echoed receiver Sam Barry. “We were waiting all year for this to happen.”
“On our own soil, it’s just amazing to be at home and in front of all the fans and in front of our whole school, the teachers,” defensive back Jon Charbonneau said. “It’s just an amazing feeling.”
The win atoned for a 34-9 loss to the Royals in the 2019 final after both teams had posted upset wins in the semifinals. The 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The championship victory completes an unbeaten season for the Lions who won all three of their regular-season games and both of their playoff matches. Ross finished its season with an overall 4-2 record.
The Lions led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and extended the lead to 21-0 by halftime. All the scoring in the game was finished by the end of the third quarter.
Owen Ellis, Ben Cottrell and John Charbonneau scored a touchdown apiece for St. James while Cameron Ross kicked three converts and the Lions had a safety.
Niko Jean-Gaston scored a touchdown for Ross on a quarterback keeper and Max Nixon converted it.
The Royals were ready for St. James running back Cottrell most of the times he got the ball, but the Lions also used fellow running back Ellis a lot and receiver Barry picked up a lot of yards after catches.
“We got stuck. They did a great job on Ben,” Cummings said. “There was a lot of clutter in the middle, they were doing stunts and they have a couple of good linebackers so Ben didn’t get off right away. Sam was important because he’s a threat. They shut Sam down, too, but we had a few things happen with Sam on deep balls, a couple of broken plays Sam turned them into yards and then ultimately we got the ball moving with Ben and Owen.”
“We’ve got two of the best running backs in the league,” Barry said of Cottrell and Ellis. “We trust them so we give them the ball and you can see what they can do out there.”
The 23 points the Lions scored were their lowest total in a single game this season.
“Our defence did a fantastic job,” Ross coach Tim Mathewson said. “We had a scoop and score on a fumble. We had given them the ball at midfield on the first drive that they scored on. Other than that our defence held them down pretty good. When you lose the turnover battle, you lose a lot of games.”
Barry, who also serves as the punter for the Lions, had a couple of fake punts, one that set up a first-quarter touchdown for the hosts.
“The fake punt, we’ve went over it a lot in practice,” he said. “We’ve got some big boys who are blocking so we went with it and it worked out.”
Barry also had a touchdown negated by a penalty.
“It’s frustrating when it gets called back,” he said. “It happens numerous times, but you forget about it and move on to the next play and it worked out.”
The biggest play of the game, though, might have been a fumble recovery by Jon Charbonneau that he took 85 yards to the house for the second-quarter TD for the Lions.
“It’s been a while, but it felt amazing doing it,” Charbonneau said of the long run. “The adrenaline running from there was just an amazing feeling.”
“When you make mistakes and you give them opportunities, it’s hard to recover from that,” Mathewson said. “When you play a really good team you have to execute and you have to be mistake-free almost and we didn’t do that today.”
The Lions allowed a league-low 15 points in their three regular-season games and then had a bit of a scare in a 25-16 win over the Bishop Macdonell Celtics in the semifinals.
“Defence is the best in the league,” Cummings said. “They’ve been lights out all year. Pawel (Szymanski) has done an amazing job with them. He’s basically a kid, our defensive coordinator. He’s two years out of high school football and he’s been absolutely amazing. Our defence has been unstoppable. They just bring it every week. It was good that they played BM last week and had BM move the ball on them. It was good to have that learning, but ultimately that won the game for us.”
“We’ve had some games where the other team’s dropped a goose egg, not a single point on the board for them,” Charbonneau said. “That was our main goal today, but we just couldn’t get them to stay off the board.
“We played stellar today. We really had a good defence this week just like most weeks.”
While the Lions walked off the field with the championship plaque, both teams left it feeling good about having had the opportunity to play this season after the 202 campaign fell victim to the pandemic, even if it was a shortened season.
“I’m grateful for what we had this year and it was something and something’s better than nothing, but it’s not the full experience of high school football,” Mathewson said. “It would be really nice to get back to that next year.”
- Guelph Sports Journal