By Anil Jhalli
One year removed from making history, the Myers Riders picked up right where they left off.
After capturing Ottawa’s first-ever Ontario Varsity Football League title at the Senior level in 2013, the west-end club replicated the results in 2014 – Senior and Bantam champions, and Junior finalists – and this time they got to do it at home on Aug. 16 at Carleton University.
“I didn’t expect anything less than being in the championship game,” says Senior Varsity coach Max Palladino, whose lineup featured 39 returning players from last year’s champion team. “With the depth that we had, we should have been able to do what we did. And that’s win.”
While several veteran players from the 2013-champion team moved on, others stepped up to take on greater challenges, most notably quarterback Matt Duffy.
The 19-year-old spent most of last season watching and waiting in the wings as Nick Gorgichuck rewrote the league record books and led the Riders to the championship.
But Duffy cemented a legacy of his own by not only guiding his team to its second consecutive OVFL banner, but putting up impressive individual statistics, throwing for 3,054 yards, 32 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and posting a QB rating of 188.7.
“You know, for a guy who really didn’t play much last year, Matt sure showed everyone what he could do,” Palladino underlines.
Duffy believes the biggest factor to the team’s success was the veteran players taking the rookie players under their wings and helping them adjust to the system.
“We played together as a team,” emphasizes the Carleton University paleontology student. “We bonded a lot and it really showed on the field.”
Duffy says he didn’t feel pressure to live up to what the team achieved last season.
“Our coaches made sure that what we did last year was out of our heads,” explains the quarterback of the 11-0 club that scored a single on the last play of the game to down the Essex Ravens 25-24 in the championship game. “They wanted to make sure we were ready to work and not get to high on ourselves.”
Bantam Riders repeat
Several new faces got to step up in the Bantam Riders’ run to second consecutive crown as well, including offensive captain Eric Bento.
“I didn’t play a lot last year, and it was special, but I really didn’t get to play,” indicates the team’s centre and long snapper, calling the home title the best moment in his life. “Having a chance to play and be part of it means a lot to me and it still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Coach Ralph Siciliano says that initially he didn’t feel this year’s squad was as strong as years past, but they proved their mettle in the way they responded after a very physical Week 4 defeat to Metro Toronto.
“After that game, no one lost focus,” underlines Siciliano, whose team won the final 43-30, also over Essex. “We became a very strong group with lots of character.”
Honoreal Iloki rushed for over 300 yards and earned game MVP honours in his Riders’ Bantam final victory.
After avenging their lone regular season loss with a 23-19 semi-final victory over the crosstown Cumberland Panthers, the Junior Varsity Riders fell to the London Mustangs 49-27 in the championship game.
One year removed from making history, the Myers Riders picked up right where they left off. After capturing Ottawa’s first-ever Ontario Varsity Football League title at the Senior level in 2013, the west-end club replicated the results in 2014 – Senior and Bantam champions, and Junior finalists – and this time they got to do it at home on Aug. 16 at Carleton University.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.