Cardinals take flight after late rugby departure

They’re the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior boys’ rugby league.

Like Toronto’s National Hockey League squad, the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves blew a big lead in the late stages to let a playoff victory slip through their fingers.

The Braves fell 31-29 to the Cardinal Newman Cardinals in HWCAA quarter-final at Mohawk Sports Park on Wednesday (May 15). The top three finishers in the standings – Cathedral Gaels, Bishop Tonnos Titans and St. Mary Crusaders – each had first-round playoff byes.

The Cardinal Newman Cardinals celebrate their come from behind quarter-final win over the Braves. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Newman will take on first-place Cathedral in one semifinal on Friday, while Bishop Tonnos and St. Mary tangle in the other. Those contests – at Mohawk Sports Park – are scheduled for 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively.

Brebeuf led 24-5 before the Cardinals soared past them. Chris Bradica scored three tries for Newman, including a dash down the left side in the final seconds before Steve Botelho’s game-ending conversion.

“I got the ball out at the end,” said Bradica. “I saw a hole, burst through it and ran all the way into the end zone.”

Newman defeated Brebeuf, 26-0, earlier this season. However, that outcome got reversed when it was determined that the Cardinals had inadvertently used an ineligible player. That was the lone victory for the Braves in five games. And in all four of those previous starts they failed to score a point.

Newman came into Wednesday’s contest minus several key players who were unavailable due to a variety of reasons including injuries.

“Everybody was playing different positions today,” Newman coach Jodi Pomerleau said. “In the second half, we started getting the ball out to the wings. We knew we couldn’t punch it up the middle. They are much bigger than we are.

“And we also knew we had to collapse on them in the middle because they are bigger.”

Bradica’s cousin, Mark, had the other try for the winners.

“You can never take your opponent lightly,” Chris Bradica said. “We picked it up in the second half and came back.

“They were running the ball with the forwards really good up the middle. We had a couple of missing forwards today so we had to tackle them. That was hard. They have a lot of big forwards.”

Brebeuf’s Antony Marikanovic, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound Grade 11 student, accounted for two tries. Single tries went to Sebastian Gallego, Austin Lavelle and Binabbi Otoru. Mike Park added a pair of conversions.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Brebeuf Braves had their best rugby game of the season. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

“We stayed in the game this time and almost won,” Marikanovic said. “It was the best game we’ve had all season. I’m happy to be part of this team.”

Brebeuf coach Jon Sanderson said it was tough to have the clock run out before the Braves could attempt one last-ditch scoring effort.

“But still,” Sanderson said, “our boys played really well and should be proud of themselves.

“When we played Cardinal Newman earlier in the year, we didn’t play to our potential. Today, everyone knew it was a clean slate. We had a second chance to go on. We wanted it and gave everything we had.”

In HWCAA girls’ quarter-final rugby action, St. Mary topped Bishop Tonnos 36-5 and the Bishop Ryan Celtics blasted Cardinal Newman 56-12. Semifinals Thursday have Bishop Ryan taking on first-place Brebeuf (2 p.m.) and St. Mary facing second-place Cathedral (3.30 p.m).