Celtics out to make history before being ‘turfed’

As the curtain rose for the final season of high school football at the Albright Road home of the Bishop Ryan Celtics, one of the team’s receivers took centre stage to play a starring role.

Lanky Stefan Olivieri stepped into the spotlight by grabbing three touchdown passes – including the winner in double overtime – as the Celtics defeated the Bishop Tonnos Titans 20-17 during the senior division opener of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association football schedule on Friday (Sept. 13).

Stefan Olivieri (19) makes a leaping catch for the Bishop Ryan Celtics. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

“This is our last year on this field and we’re trying to make history,” Olivieri said.

Soon, Bishop Ryan students will be moving to their new $35-million Garner Road East digs, which includes an artificial turf field, on the escarpment. However, Celtic home football games will continue to be played on the natural grass for the 2013 campaign. Celtics have been based at their current location since 1991. And for the 33 years immediately prior to that, the original BR was located at Queenston Road.

“We like playing here although the field isn’t the best,” said Celtics head coach John Fleming, a former BR student who went on to play for the McMaster Marauders. “I practised on this for four years, but I never had a game on it (league games were played at Ivor Wynne and elsewhere).

“It does have sentimental value to the kids. We are looking forward to the new turf, though. A lot of the kids who played here went on to do great things in football.”

Just seconds prior to the opening kickoff, the referees spotted a hole near midfield. A staffer was notified and he filled it with a shovelful of soil.

Bishop Tonnos, who kept the game tied through regulation, couldn’t figure out Olivieri. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

With the game tied 14-14 at the end of regulation time, Joe Radojewski booted a 32-yard field goal in the second overtime to seemingly put the Titans in the driver’s seat. But the Celtics responded with an 11-yard pass from quarterback Eric White to Mark Fournier. That set up a 23-yard game-ending scoring strike from White to Olivieri. Earlier, 6-foot-4, 170-pound Olivieri gave Bishop Ryan a 14-0 lead when he made second-quarter touchdown receptions covering 34 yards and 87 yards. Michael Fortino converted both majors.

“Their big play was throwing the ball up to No. 19 (Olivieri),” Tonnos’ coach John Kalenchuk said. “We tried different defences. Unfortunately, we were inconsistent in being able to cover him. We made some adjustments but, when push came to shove on the final play of the second overtime, he was the difference. He had a hell of a game.

“He uses his height and length to his advantage. On the balls he caught today, he demonstrated an overwhelming desire to make the play. That might have been the difference.”

Olivieri saw limited action for the Ontario Football Conference senior varsity league champion Hamilton Hurricanes earlier in the summer. Said Fleming: “(Olivieri) has elusive speed. He also has ability to go up and get the ball and break away. He’s become a smart player. Our young Grade 11 quarterback trusts him.”

Bishop Ryan rookie QB Eric White looks for the hole. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Olivieri praised the efforts of the rookie, White: “He throws a beautiful ball,” Olivieri said.

Tonnos rallied in the second half and nearly won it in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. However, Radojewski’s 27-yard field goal try drifted wide and the Titans were penalized for no yards after recovering the ball in the end zone. Radojewski could have ended the contest in the first overtime, but his three-point attempt against the wind landed just short — on the goal line directly between the goal posts.

The Titans first touchdown came in the third quarter when tailback Daryl Skuse took a pitchout and scampered 26 yards into the end zone. That was followed early in the fourth quarter by a 36-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Scott Daley, who went untouched on the play.

Olivieri, who suffered leg cramping and was sidelined for much of the second half, said: “It was hard to have to watch. I couldn’t come back.”

Kalenchuk said it was the running game – led by Skuse – that sparked the Titans in the final two quarters.

“We played half the game,” the Titans coach said. “The goal next week is to play a whole game. Bishop Ryan played consistently the whole game.”

Elsewhere, the two-time defending HWCAA champion Cardinal Newman Cardinals got three touchdowns by Justin Connolly and two others by Mitchell Athlee en route to a 34-7 victory over the St. Mary Crusaders. The St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves edged the Cathedral Gaels 22-18 and the St. Thomas More Knights had the bye.