Top two, Lions and Spartans, advance to D10 final
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH – When the final whistle sounded to end the District 10 high school football’s McDonald’s FryDay Night Lights semifinals at Alumni Stadium Friday night, the teams that had finished in the top two positions at the end of the regular season were through to the next Friday’s championship match.
While the first-place St. James Lions had a little easier time securing a berth in the final than the runner-up Centennial Spartans, both knew they had survived a tough challenge.
The Spartans scored all of their points in the final five and a half minutes of the game as they slipped by the third-place Guelph CVI Green Gaels 17-7 and the Lions secured their 27-7 win over the fourth-place Bishop Macdonell Celtics with a pair of third-quarter TDs.
It’ll be the third consecutive year that the teams that finished one-two in the standings will meet in the final. However, it’s the sixth time in 13 years that’s happened.
The Lions will be looking for their first ever D10 football title. It’ll be their fifth appearance in the final in 12 years and they suffered a loss by a single point in two of those games.
Centennial will be out for its eighth D10 title and first since 2015.
The winner of next week’s D10 championship will host the D1/7 champion in a CWOSSA quarter-final match Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.
Centennial 17 Guelph CVI 7
Touchdowns by Hadi El Miari on a pass from quarterback Daniel Brown and another one on a keeper by Brown and a field goal and two converts by Ben Lane all came in the final five and a half minutes of the game to give Centennial the win in the early game.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Centennial coach Zach Pollari said. “I still don’t think we’ve put a game together.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing, but as long as we get the win who really cares how it happened,” Brown said of the close match.
“That was a really tight game,” GCVI coach Dan Crabbe said. “We were in the game right until the end. That’s a good team and we hung with them the whole game. Four quarters, the guys gave everything they had and I couldn’t be prouder.”
GCVI had opened the scoring early in the third quarter when Gabriel Tersigni returned an interception to the Centennial end zone and Abdalrahiem Suleiman kicked the convert.
Both teams had trouble hanging on to the ball as they combined for 10 turnovers, mainly on fumble recoveries. And that total didn’t include the number of fumbles that were recovered by the team that fumbled.
And neither team blamed the cold weather for the inability to hold on to the ball, especially in the first half when seven of the turnovers occurred.
“I’ll look at the film and we’ll make the corrections that we can,” Pollari said. “Whoever we end up playing in the championship, we’re not going to end up beating a team if we have turnovers like that. We have to clean that up and we’re going to have to bring our best game next week.”
“There were definitely a lot of stupid turnovers. I had some turnovers. We’ll work on it all next week, holding the ball better and making better reads,” Brown said. “I think it was just a matter of not hanging on to the ball, but GC also did a very good job of stripping it because they were going for it almost every time I ran, which I respect a lot.”
“The turnovers both ways, the shift kept coming and going back and forth,” Crabbe said. “Guys could hardly run off the field before going back on again. That was a big part of it, on both teams. It wasn’t like one team had more turnovers. It was an exciting game and (everyone) was trying to do everything they could to win this game on both sides and the guys weren’t leaving anything on the field. Those things happen.”
Brown was judged to be the game’s MVP.
“He’s a heck of a ball player,” Pollari. “He can do everything. Yeah, he’s just a guy that we trust in to be as good as he is and he rises to the occasion.”
Both teams had credit for their opponents.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to GCVI,” Pollari said. “Man, they made a ton of changes. They had a great game plan. We were really struggling trying to overcome what they were throwing at us, but at the end of the day, I think because of all the close games that we’ve had and we’ve really learned to deal with adversity, we were able to come out successful.”
While the loss brought GCVI’s season to an end, the Gaels will likely be pretty pleased when they look back.
“You always want to be competing at the end and sometimes that doesn’t happen,” Crabbe said. “We’re proud of this group and what we accomplished. We competed. We’re looking toward the future. As soon as the last snap of the ball, we’re looking again to next year. We’re confident in this group. We’ve got some guys coming up and they’ll remember this. They’ll remember this and this will, hopefully, fuel our team for next year.”
The Spartans will put in a hard work at practice to get ready for the championship match with the Lions.
“We’ve got to clean up the turnovers,” Pollari said. “We’ll see who wins tonight and then we’ll come up with a plan on how we think we can beat them.”
“We’ve got to work on keeping our cool,” Brown said. “I, myself, especially, sometimes we can get out of our heads if things aren’t going right. We’ve just got to work better at relaxing and just focusing on our jobs.”
Spartans 17 Green Gaels 7
Guelph CVI 0-0-7-0–7
Guelph CVI, TD, Gabriel Tersigni (interception return), Abdalrahiem Suleiman convert 4:28
Centennial, TD, Hadi El Miari (pass from Daniel Brown), Ben Lane convert 6:27
Centennial, TD, Daniel Brown (run), Ben Lane convert 10:22
Centennial, FG, Ben Lane 11:59
St. James 27 Bishop Macdonell 7
The Lions scored all their points in the middle quarters as they scored two TDs in each of the second and third quarters.
“That was a gutty, tough, resilient team that we played,” St. James coach Jeff Cummings said of the Celtics. “They should be really proud of themselves. They’ve worked extremely hard and I don’t think that any other team can lay claim to working as hard as that program has so I give them a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished.”
“To be honest, this is the most prepared we’ve been for any game we’ve played this year,” Bishop Mac coach Rob Hamilton said. “We had a lot of film. We had a lot of practice reps. We didn’t see a single thing today that we hadn’t seen all year. The thing is, on the credit of St. James, they’re very good at doing those handful of things. You have to give the O line and the individual players credit for the execution of that system. It’s very good, not to take away from the coaching staff that has obviously worked and prepared for a long time.”
Tanner Nelmes had a pair of touchdowns, both running, and was his usual workhorse while quarterback Jakob Tomas was judged to be the game’s MVP.
“They had some pretty big guys,” Nelmes said. “We knew that Caelen (Fraser) was going to be at linebacker and the Kieran (O’Donnell), too. Those are two pretty big forces and I just had to pound it and everybody just had to fire it up and just stuff it down their throat, really.”
Nelmes also felt that the unbeaten Lions (5-0 in regular season) were just getting into full stride.
“Honestly, I’d say that it started off slow for me personally, but we’re really peaking and our offensive coordinator commented on that,” Nelmes said of the season for the Lions. “We’re peaking at the perfect time coming at the end of the District 10 season. It’s perfect.”
Now the Lions head to their third consecutive appearance in the championship match. It’ll also be their fourth appearance in five years as they continue to look for their first D10 title win.
“We’ve almost made a deal not to talk about it as a matter of practice, but we’re excited to get there,” Cummings said. “This is a different team, a new team, a new mentality. Our focus is on what we’ve done this year. We’re regularly to the championship, but it’s a new set of guys and we won’t think about anything in the past.”
The Celtics might have been disappointed with the outcome of the game, but they left the field with their heads held high.
“For us, this is the best season that I’ve had here personally as head coach,” Hamilton said. “We’ve come a long way over the last four or five years – a long, long way. The really bittersweet part about it is that I’ve got a lot of kids that I’ve had since they were in Grade 8 in our JV program. When we started JV, these are the kids that started it in Guelph. It’s kind of difficult because now they’re in 12+ and they’re gone. We’ve got a fair amount of Grade 12s that are also gone so our program is going to have to rejuvenate itself once again, but I think we set a good standard, a good bar of achievement for the younger kids.”
While the Lions might be trying to keep quiet about it, they’re looking forward to getting another shot at the D10 crown.
“We’re really fired up about it,” Nelmes said. “This has been a long five years for me. It’s going to be our fourth championship (appearance) here at St. James.”
“We prepare as well as everyone,” Cummings said. “We work really hard on our weekends to watch film and get our guys ready for the next game. We’ll go back and do that. This is a complex team that we’re playing – a strong offence, a fast offence. We’ve got some work to do.”