By Martin Cleary
Losing one high school football championship is tough enough.
Having to experience back-to-back defeats in the final may help develop your character even more, but it’s more difficult to swallow.
The St. Matthew Tigers weren’t about to let it happen in a third consecutive National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championship Wednesday on the snow-covered football field at Carleton University.
And they didn’t, although there was that moment at the end of the third quarter of the Tier 1 football championship, when it looked like the Tigers may have to settle for being runners-up again.
But a holding penalty, a stellar defence and the poised quarterbacking of Jackson Plante, a Grade 11 student-athlete, allowed the Tigers to hold off St. Joseph Jaguars 20-13 for their fourth city football championship since 2016.
Both teams entered the championship undefeated and as the respective East and West Conference champions – St. Matthew at 7-0-1 and St. Joseph at 8-0.
After scoring three touchdowns and adding a two-point convert in the first half for a 20-6 lead, the Tigers watched the Jaguars sprint into the third quarter with one touchdown and a potential game-changing touchdown that was called back because of a penalty.
Jaguars’ running back Ben Kovac took a pitch from quarterback Ashton St. Germain and sprinted down the left sideline for an apparent 58-yard touchdown. A one-point convert would have tied the game and a two- point convert would have given the Jaguars their first lead in the game.
But the excitement among the Jaguars’ delegation ended quickly, when an official’s flag on the field indicated the Jaguars were being called for a holding penalty.
The Jaguars had a fourth-quarter opportunity from the Tigers’ seven-yard line, but running back Kay Griffin couldn’t handle the slippery ball on a third-and-two situation to end St. Joseph’s bid for a fourth city football championship since 2010. The morning snow and the melting conditions in the afternoon made the ball greasy at times.
The Tigers’ offence used an effective blend of passing and running in their final two series to run out the clock. The defence was alert and stingy and prevented the Jaguars from gaining any yards on their final three plays, all passes.
“Before this game, we had lost the last two championships,” Plante said following a masterful effort. “This is great and it feels better winning a close game.
“Our coaches set up a good game plan and we executed it.”
Plante had a vital hand in all three touchdowns and the two-point convert for the Tigers, who now advance to the three-day OFSAA Bowl Series in Guelph. St. Matthew will play Northern Secondary School of Toronto, the TDSSAA champion, in the National Capital Bowl on Nov. 30 at 10 a.m.
St. Matthew scored on its first series in the opening quarter as Plante ran 10 yards straight ahead for a touchdown. The play was set up by Hugo Djeumeni, who had a lengthy punt return to the Jaguars’ 18-yard line.
The second quarter was highlighted by the pass-and-catch show of Plante and receiver Jahim Kabongo. Taking advantage of the air-tight protection from his offensive line, Plante connected with Kabongo for touchdowns covering 49 and 56 yards.
“I’m not much of a runner, so when I’m in the pocket, I have to stay calm,” Plante added.
Christos Zigoumis scored a two-point convert on a pass from Plante, after Kabongo’s second touchdown.
Kovac was responsible for the Jaguars’ two touchdowns – a 48-yard score in the second quarter and a 10-yard run with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Jonas Pasian kicked the convert after the second touchdown.
“I’m ecstatic,” beamed St. Matthew head coach Geoffrey Coventry, who added the team got stronger as the season progressed. “I’m really happy for the coaches and the work of the boys.”
Coventry was particularly impressed with the play of Plante.
“He’s a gamer. He’s a leader. I love his passing, leadership and poise,” he said as the players celebrated around him. “We had some big plays from Jackson and Jahim.”
Coventry also praised the play of the Jaguars, who raised their game in the second half, after struggling in the first half.
“They adjusted to us and credit to Scatch (Jaguars’ head coach Blaine Scatcherd). They did a great job. We had to bide our time and grind out the win,” he explained.
“It was a team effort. I don’t take credit. I call the plays, but they are the ones who do it.”
St. Pat’s wins Tier 2 title with no points allowed
Meanwhile in the Tier 2 final, the opening game of the NCSSAA football championship doubleheader, St. Patrick’s Fighting Irish scored points in every quarter to shut out Immaculata Saints 24-0.
After Ridha Abbas kicked a 14-yard field goal late in the first quarter, Caleb Weekes made an amazing catch in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. The other two St. Patrick’s touchdowns came from Joey Richardson, a 12-yard run, and Dillon Francis, a four-yard run. Abbas also kicked three singles.
“We couldn’t get any better. We literally put it all together,” St. Patrick’s head coach Mitch Nini said, following the Fighting Irish’s fourth city title since 2003. “We saved our best for last.”
The Tier 2 bracket was for teams which didn’t qualify as a top-eight school for the Tier 1 playoffs. St. Patrick’s finished in fifth place in the East at 3-3, while Immaculata was fifth in the West at 2-4.
“To be honest, we won last year and it’s nice to keep the trophy at St. Patrick’s for another year,” he added.
The Fighting Irish also won the Ashton Dickson Trophy, which is presented to the winning team in the annual game between St. Patrick’s and Immaculata. Dickson, a former star offensive player for St. Patrick’s and St. Francis Xavier University, was killed outside a Rideau Street club five years ago.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 “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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