Northern Juniors Rally From Disastrous Opening Quarter To Capture City Crown
For the first time this season the Northern Red Knights were stunned by an opponent.
But fortunately for the Red Knights they were able to recover and stage a massive rally en route to being crowned city champs on Thursday.
Northern, which trailed 17-0 in the opening quarter, came back to down the Leaside Lancers 21-17 in the Toronto high school junior boys’ football championship final staged at Varsity Stadium.
The Red Knights had registered their share of lopsided victories this season, collectively outscoring their opponents 266-22 in their first six contests this year.
And Northern was considered a huge favourite heading into the final as it had blanked Leaside 51-0 in its regular season matchup in mid-October.
But on Thursday it was the Lancers who struck first, recovering a Northern fumble and scoring a TD just past the opening minute of the first quarter.
Leaside took a 10-0 lead by connecting on an 18-yard field goal with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. And then, a mere 37 seconds later, the Lancers recovered another fumble for another major to take a 17-0 lead.
“I don’t think our boys were ready to play football,” said Red Knights’ head coach John Lombardi. “We got beaten up in the first quarter really badly, on the offensive line in particular. We couldn’t run. We didn’t have time to throw the ball. And we turned it over three times.”
Northern quarterback Riley Chalmers was perhaps a bit more descriptive to what happened to his squad early on.
“They came out and they just punched us in the mouth,” he said. “I guess we stumbled a bit but then we recovered and we started working and we came back.”
The Red Knights’ comeback began early in the second quarter when Chalmers connected with Miguel Collado on an 11-yard pass for a TD.
Chalmers and Collado hooked up once again, this time for a 65-yard pass and run for a major, with under two minutes to go in the opening half.
Northern, however, still had some work to do as it trailed 17-14 at the half. The Red Knights, however, were not able to get any closer in the third quarter, which turned out to be a scoreless 12 minutes of action.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Northern’s Will Sievert gave his squad decent field position when he returned a punt return to the Leaside 28-yard line.
On the very next play, Chalmers and Collado joined forces again for a 28-yard pass and catch for a TD, for what proved to be the eventual game-winning points.
Besides Collado’s three touchdowns, Northern’s scoring was rounded out by kicker Johnny Musson who was a perfect 3-for-3 on his point after converts.
Collado, who was selected as the Red Knights’ MVP in the final, was understandably pleased with the final outcome.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve won a city championship. I’m so happy. I’m so happy for my team. I’m so happy for my coaches.”
Despite the first-quarter happenings, Collado said he remained upbeat.
“I still had hope in my head,” he said. “I was still telling my teammates ‘We can do this, we can do this, keep your heads up.’”
Chalmers said he was also trying to keep members of the Red Knights positive.
“I think a lot of people on our team were down,” he said. “But I was just going around rallying everyone and telling them that we’re still in this and that we’ve done a lot more than this in a quarter before. I think that really lifted everybody’s spirits up and as you can see we came back and made it happen.”
Chalmers added it’s rather special that the Red Knights can now call themselves city champs.
“There’s nothing better in the world than this,” he said. “This is the best feeling ever. This is my Super Bowl.”
Chalmers also had plenty of praise for his teammate Collado.
“Amazing, spectacular and the best player I’ve ever played with,” Chalmers said of his teammate.