Varsity Spears in tough
The Niagara Spears Varsity football team will be up against it this Saturday when it opens the Ontario Provincial Football League playoffs on the road against the unbeaten London Junior Mustangs.
Niagara thought it had avoided London in the first round of the playoffs, but things changed because of off the field events.
“We were supposed to be third, but there were some political games in the background that got us in fourth because they eliminated a team for supposedly having non-registered players,” Spears head coach Brian Duguay said.
Mark Bryson reported in the Waterloo Region Record that a two-day audit of Cambridge Minor Football Association’s membership discovered 76 players and seven coaches from eight of the association’s teams were not registered in Football Canada’s database and had been operating without insurance since May.
The Ontario Football Alliance, the sport’s governing body in the province, gave the Cambridge association a deadline of noon last Thursday to register the players and coaches, but the OPFL and Ontario Football League expelled the teams, including the Varsity squad, Wednesday.
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Niagara had a bye week last week and Duguay emphasized to his team that London is an obstacle the Spears will have to overcome.
“Sooner or later we have to beat them whether we meet them in the first round or in the second round,” Duguay said. “Let’s beat them in the first round and give them their first loss.”
The 7-0 Junior Mustangs led the league in offence (283 points scored) and defence (64 points allowed) compared to Niagara 126 points scored and 127 points allowed.
“Our age groups goes 17, 18 and 19 and they have 30 guys who are 19,” Duguay said. “And 30 of them go to the University of Western (Ontario). They are all first-year university players that are playing and that’s the benefit of having the team there. Their quarterback is from Toronto, but he’s playing for London.”
That being said, Duguay isn’t conceding anything to London.
“I believe they are beatable,” he said. “We had a couple of mistakes last game and then we went on a nosedive. If we can limit the mistakes and stay positive, I think we can beat them.”
The Spears lost 40-3 during the regular season to the Junior Mustangs after trailing 17-3 at the half.
“It was close and we kept it close,” Duguay said. “Our offence needs to keep our defence off the field or limit their time on the field, We had a lot of two and outs with a lot of young guys on offence.
“We also have a lot of young guys on defence and we will only graduate nine guys.”
Next year should be a good year for the Spears and any playoff experience gained in 2018 will be most helpful in 2019.
“Every playoff game that we play is where they gain their confidence,” Duguay said. “It’s a big thing that we made the playoffs.”
The Spears offence is led by quarterback Travis Arp, who has completed 54-121 passes for 662 yards and 10 TDs. His top receivers are Justin Succar (38 catches for 226 yards and five majors), Dante McNamara (23 catches for 195 yards and two TDs), Joseph Jones (14 catches for 76 yards and one TD) and Dallas Bone (16 catches for 72 yards and two TDs). Niagara rushing leaders are Josh Ferguson (50 carries for 201 yards and four TDs), Jeremiah Nyambiya (22 carries for 128 yards) and Chase Bowden ((18 carries for 80 yards and a major).
London quarterback Brent Holmes completed 51-115 passes for 999 yards and 10 majors. London’s running game consists of Taz Vang Bell (80 carries for 1,137 yards and 15 TDs), Dylan Gallant (54 carries for 518 yards and five TDs). Top Junior Mustangs receivers are Noah Jones (15 catches for 352 yards and four TDs) and Ryan More (18 catches for 308 yards and three TDs).
Among Niagara’s key defenders are: Mitchell Demers, 28 tackles; Zachary Melnyk, 19 tackles; Owen Wallace, 18 tackles; Daylan Morales, 17 tackles and two sacks; Isaiah Mackey, 15 tackles and two sacks; Marley McCray, 15 tackles and one sack; and, Colin Howe, 15 tackles.