JV Spears advance to championship weekend
The Niagara Spears junior varsity football team punched its ticket for the Ontario Summer Football League’s championship weekend in Windsor with a 13-2 victory over the visiting Vaughan Rebels Friday night at Kiwanis Field in St. Catharines.
The game feature big defensive plays by both squads and not much in the way of scoring.
The Spears turned the ball over on downs on their first two possessions of the first half before Aidan Van Mil returned a punt 53 yards in the second quarter to give Niagara a 7-0 lead. Van Mil caught the punt on a dead run and blew through Vaughan’s defenders to score the major.
On Niagara’s next possession, a 25-yard punt return by Van Mil gave the Spears good field position. Two plays later, quarterback Austin MacRae scramble 51 yards to set up a 14-yard TD pass to Calum Smith that gave Niagara a 13-0 lead at the half.
Vaughan’s lone points came in the third quarter when Niagara conceded a safety.
The fourth quarter featured a number of big defensive plays starting with Vaughan forcing a fumble on its own one-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. For Niagara’s defence, the final quarter featured two sacks by Lucas Landry, a fumble recovery by Joseph Moore and a late interception by Carter Small which allowed the Spears to knee the ball out to finish the game.
“I liked the way our defence played and our special teams played really well,” Niagara coach Brad Martin said. “Offensively, we had two touchdowns called back and we had a fumble on the goal line but they have a great defence. They played us well but the kids played really hard and they are learning to win.”
The defence has been strong all season for the Spears.
“There’s a lot of really good players on defence and they have got a great coach. Tim Bisci is a hell of a coach,” he said.
As he has done all season, MacRae was the catalyst for Niagara offence.
“Austin MacRae is probably one of the best quarterbacks in the province for the junior league. He is a helluva athlete, he is a fierce competitor and he is willing to put the work in to grow and get better,” Martin said.
MacRae’s scrambling abilities are impressive.
“He runs everywhere and he is very hard to bring down. He is very strong.”
Martin has seen his quarterback take strides in his game this summer.
“He has come a long way. He is more willing to trust his arm and his reads, he is learning to read defences better and he uses his legs when he has to.”
The 16-year-old Niagara Falls resident, who has been playing travel football for nine years with the Spears and Niagara Generals, describes his style as mobile.
“If I don’t see anything I take off and try to make a play with my feet but I can also sling the rock too,” the Grade 11 student at Saint Michael said.
He agrees he had a few scrambles Friday where he ran 50 yards to gain five.
“I don’t like to go down because I like to get yards. The coaches are alway telling me that I should treat my body a little bit better and I am going to start focusing on that to improve my game,” he said. “I need to go down instead of taking a million hits and be smarter when I am running.”
MacRae is very intense on the field and he is not afraid to get in the faces of his teammates.
“I have been playing travel sports my whole life and I want to win a championship. That what’s we are doing. We are going to the championship and I want to win it.”
He feels the Spears are capable of doing just that.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t clicking. Now we are all playing together and I feel we have a good chance to win it.”