Late heroics help Patriots silence Thunder
The Saint Paul Patriots and Blessed Trinity Thunder senior football teams are developing a flair for dramatic endings to regular season and playoff football games.
Friday’s Niagara Catholic Athletic Association semifinal at Saint Paul added another chapter to that nail-biting narrative.
Trailing 11-9 with 55.8 seconds left in the game, the Patriots’ season appeared to be over when the Thunder’s Bryson Buckborough intercepted a Saint Paul pass at the Patriots 46-yard line. But on the very next play, Saint Paul’s Enzey Youyoute recovered a fumble to give the Patriots the ball on the Thunder 50-yard line with 26.1 seconds left in the contest. Following an incomplete pass, Devon Schiller-Cleveland hooked up with Will Schmahl on a game-winning 50-yard scoring pass that dashed the Thunder’s hopes of returning to the NCAA championship game for the second straight year.
Schmahl, an 18-year-old 12B student, played a key role in the victory. In addition to the game-winning TD grab, he had an interception followed by a 32-yard reception that set up the Patriots’ first touchdown on a one-yard run.
“It feels great to do it in front of my teammates and in front of the school,” Schmahl said.
He admitted he wasn’t expecting to be celebrating a victory Friday.
“I thought it was over and I thought this was going to be our last game of football.”
Schmahl started out as the team’s returning, starting quarterback, but willingly moved over to safety and receiver to allow Schiller-Cleveland to take over the reins of the offence.
“Will has got all the tools and he is such a nice kid to coach too,” Saint Paul coach Rick Oreskovich said. “He’s athletic, he’s good at academics and he has drive.
“Whatever he chooses, football or baseball and he’s a great basketball player too, he will do well and we will miss him.”
Oreskovich said Schmahl was more than happy to let someone else take over as quarterback.
“I don’t think he liked the pressure as much because there’s a lot less pressure playing safety and it allows him to use his athletic talent.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, who plays baseball in London with the Great Lakes Canadians, played one exhibition game at quarterback this season for the Patriots before changing positions.
“I was bouncing around at wide receiver and I became the safety in Week 3,” he said. “It (quarterbacking) is a lot of stress on my arm with baseball and it’s fun to try and experience something new in my last year.”
Playing receiver was an easy transition, but it took him two or three games before he felt comfortable at safety.
“I like it and I know what I am doing a little better now.”
He surely does and for the second straight game, Schmahl was awarded a piece of chain link called the Defensive Chain for having a great game on defence.
Oreskovich was happy how his team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We didn’t give up right to the end,” he said. “We had faith in our quarterback and we figured that we had to do something that we don’t normally do.”
What the Patriots did was a play they made up on the sidelines that had Schmahl running hard down the field and having Schiller-Cleveland throw the ball up in his direction.
“He was good enough and lucky enough to come down with it and give them (BT) credit because they played a tremendous game,” Oreskovich said. “And give our kids credit for the defence we played. We played aggressive and never gave up in situations where they could have easily scored.”
Offensively, Saint Paul wasn’t as sharp.
“We are still working out wrinkles and we have to get better rhythm, but overall the victory is key because it could have went either way,” Oreskovich said.
Thunder head coach Sean Jones thought Friday’s playoff game was a repeat of last week’s final regular season game won by the Patriots on BT’s home field.
“We felt we controlled the tempo in the first half and won the field position battle, but we couldn’t punch it in,” he said. “We got to the point where we thought we pretty much had it (won) in the second half and we made a couple of mental errors. We let them back in the door and they took advantage.
“They played really well.”
It was a tough ending to a season that began with high expectations.
“We had some talented ball players and guys who expected more from the season and it has been a bit of a rollercoaster personally with all that has gone on,” Jones said. “It would have been nice to get this one to make up for last week and take on Notre Dame next week, but that being said, I think our guys left it all on the field.”
There is no secret to beating Notre Dame, Jones said.
“They have to take away the big play, have a bend but don’t break approach and play to their strengths,” he said. “They are going to need to bring their A game to do it, but Notre Dame is beatable.
“If they play as hard next week as they played today, they’ve got a shot.”
Schmahl named three factors that will be required to beat Notre Dame.
“Teamwork, grit and a lot of hard work,” he said.
Patriots 15 Thunder 11
Mick and Angelo’s/Johnny Rocco’s Player of the Game: Saint Paul’s Will Schmahl with a punt block, an interception and 32-yard reception to set up Saint Paul’s first down, and the game-winning 50-yard TD reception from Devon Schiller-Cleveland.
For the Saint Paul Patriots: Schmahl, TD catch from Schiller-Cleveland, interception and punt block; Jarrel Pappin, one-yard TD run; Carlos Calderon, sack; Enzey Youyoute, fumble recovery.
For the Blessed Trinity Thunder: Owen Jones, 85-yard kick return for a TD; Luke Lemessurier, two single points on punts and an interception; Isaac McAlonan, interception, fumble recovery and two single points on punts; Max Mosquite, fumble recovery; Bryson Buckborough, interception.
Game stats: First downs: SP 9, BT 14. Net offence: SP 250, BT 171. Turnovers: SP 6, BT 3. Penalties: SP 12 for 80 yards, BT 8 for 65 yards.