By Martin Cleary
For the first time in three years, the Ottawa Sooners are involved in playoff football and in the hunt for a fifth national junior championship.
Starting from scratch in the summer as the Sooners didn’t field a team in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new organization returned to the Ontario Football Conference for 2022 and made an immediate and noteworthy impression.
The No. 9 nationally-ranked Sooners finished third in the OFC with a record of five wins and three losses, which qualified them for Saturday’s scheduled semifinal on the road against the second-place and defending champion London Beefeaters, 6-3.
Game time is 5 p.m. and can be viewed at http://www.cjfltv.com. There is a $15 charge.
The Sooners, who won Canadian championships in 1974, 1979, 1984 and 1992 from their 13 national final appearances, will be hard pressed to win their semifinal as they lost their season opener to the Beefeaters 42-14 and their seventh game to London by a 31-6 score.
The second OFC semifinal also is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. in Windsor between the undefeated and pennant-winning St. Clair Saints, 8-0, and the fourth-place Hamilton Hurricanes, 3-5.
If the Sooners can defeat the Beefeaters, they will advance to the club’s 18th OFC championship game. The Sooners have won the provincial junior football title 11 times, the last being in 2009 by a 32-21 score over St. Leonard Cougars. The last time the Sooners appeared in the OFC final was in 2010, a 21-17 loss to the Hamilton Hurricanes.
The Sooners played in the OFC from 1960 to 1995 before switching to the Quebec Major Junior Football League for financial reasons from 1996 to 2008. They returned to the OFC in 2009. The Sooners won the Quebec championship in 1997, 2001 and 2002.
The success of the 2022 Sooners in their build-from-scratch season wasn’t lost on the OFC award selection committee. The Sooners won two major awards, had five players – three on offence and two on defence – selected to the all-star team, and saw three players earn Player-of-the-Week honours.
Former player Kevin Ling, who is the Sooners’ owner, president and head coach, was selected the league’s Coach of the Year.
In a season-opening statement on the Sooners’ website, Ling was optimistic about returning to the league in a positive manner.
“I am fully committed to returning Sooner football to Ottawa and creating a winning environment centred around players’ skills, training and position specific development,” he wrote.
Quarterback Owen Cowan was the engine of the Sooners’ offence and was named not only the OFC’s Outstanding Offensive Rookie, but also shared the QB position on the all-star team with St. Clair’s Andrew Brush.
Cowan was effective as a passer as well as a rusher. He connected on 92 of 172 pass attempts (53.5 per cent) for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns. Cowan also was the leading rusher for the Sooners, compiling 296 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.
The Sooner offence also was recognized for its 240-point regular season with the all-star appointment of offensive lineman Jett Hudson and receiver Nathan Coleman, who made 13 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown.
The Ottawa defence, which only allowed 156 points in eight games, was sparked by lineman Richard Graham and linebacker Shawn Charles.
Graham had a full statistical lineup – 24 tackles, five assisted tackles, 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one touchdown, two interceptions (both for touchdowns), one blocked kick, one knockdown and one forced fumble.
Charles recorded 21 tackles, two assisted tackles, 1.5 sacks, two blocked kicks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and one interception.
During the regular season, the Sooners earned three Player-of-the-Week honours: Week 11, defence, Graham, three solo tackles, one interception for a 51-yard touchdown; Week 7, special teams, Keyshawn Upshaw-Tyne, an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a missed field goal return for a 115-yard touchdown and 213 yards total on three returns; and Week 6, defence, Quinton Hodgson, fumble return for an 85-yard touchdown and three tackles.
PROVINCIAL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULED FOR OTTAWA
Four Ontario football championships at the grassroots level will be decided in Ottawa Nov. 19-20 at a yet-to-be-determined site.
The U12 and U14 champions from the Ottawa-based National Capital Amateur Football Association and the Southern Ontario-located Ontario Fall Football League will clash for the provincial A championship.
The NCAFA and OFFL finalists in the U12 and U14 age groups will play a single game for the provincial B title.
The top U10 teams from both leagues will stage a jamboree-style day of six-a-side football.
“What a great way to celebrate youth football by bringing together two great leagues to showcase the province’s great talent,” NCAFA president Gawain Harding said in a press release. “What’s on display is the next generation of Team Ontario stars.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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