Hamilton has finally changed its luck at a Horseshoe high school football final.
The Cardinal Newman Cardinals edged the Burlington Assumption Crusaders 31-24 at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium on Thursday (Nov. 21). And that marks the first time since 2007 that a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association squad has defeated Halton’s representative for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference championship.
During that streak, Burlington’s M. M. Robinson Rams, Nelson Lords and Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish took turns in prevailing over their HWCAA opponents – Cardinal Newman falling in both 2012 and ’11.
“We just came off a third straight Hamilton championship,” said Cardinals corner and kick returner, Mark Bradica. “It’s a great feeling to final break the seal of GHAC. Newman had never won a GHAC game.
“This game got tight, but we stuck together as a team.”
With the hard-fought victory, Newman advances to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Football Festival on Friday, Nov. 29 against Toronto’s Don Bosco Eagles (formerly coached by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford). That season-finale is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium.
Midway through the third quarter, Cardinals quarterback Matt Metcalfe tossed a deep pass to wide receiver Clark Adams who was streaking down the sideline and hauled it in for a 62-yard touchdown. That increased Newman’s lead to 30-10. From then on, however, the Crusaders made a spirited comeback.
Jordan Lyons sparked that Assumption rally. The talented running back – he rushed 13 times for 170 yards — took a handoff and weaved his way for a 30-yard touchdown with one minute, 36 seconds left in the third quarter. Then, with 9:31 left, Lyons took another handoff. But this time, as he reached the line of scrimmage, he stopped behind his right-side guard and tackle and heaved a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver, Tyler Bryk.
“That touchdown Jordan threw was not called,” Assumption coach Ivan Yurgan said. “That was all him … his athleticism and his football knowledge. He pulled it out when he saw there was nothing there. He had the presence to know he was still behind the line of scrimmage and made the play. He’s phenomenal.”
Newman’s final point came off a missed field goal by Grade 10 call-up David Benedetti with 5:45 remaining. Benedetti was an emergency fill-in for field-goal kicker Marcus DiLoreto and punter Justin Connolly. DiLoreto was disqualified for an incident which occurred in the first minute of the fourth quarter, so he’s not likely to be available for the next game. Connolly was helped off the field with a leg injury with just over two minutes remaining.
“We had to bring a junior guy in when Marcus left and Connolly went out,” Newman coach Anthony Macaluso said. “For (Benedetti) to come in to a pressure situation like that, it says a lot about him and his character.”
On its final drive, Assumption quarterback Adam Van Kooten connected for a pair of first-down passes, advancing the ball to Newman’s 35-yard line. Bradica then ended the threat by knocking down a couple of dangerous-looking throws.
“What can I say about Bradica’s defending?” praised Macaluso. “Connolly played great, Matt Metcalfe is a leader on the field with his running and throwing. But we win as a team. That was evident today.”
Connolly scored three touchdowns – a pair of one-yard runs and a 29-yard reception. He grabbed a total of six passes for 112 yards. Along the ground, Mitch Atlee of the Cardinals gained 112 yards on nine carries and Metcalfe chipped in with 46 yards on nine carries.
“You might control (Connolly) a little, but you’re not going to stop him,” Yurgan said. “He’s too good an athlete.”
Assumption’s scoring in the first half came from a 45-yard run by Lyons plus a 23-yard field goal by Terrance Giangregorio.
The Crusaders shot themselves in the foot by taking five unnecessary roughness penalties and one for objectionable conduct among the 12 flags they received. Newman was penalized 10 times for 80 yards.
“We never retaliated,” Bradica said. “We kept our composure and stuck together as a team. It helped us out because it gave us good field position.”
Assumption and Cardinal Newman scrimmaged against each other in early September.
“We started slow, but we clawed our way back,” Yurgan said. “My guys could have folded the tent a couple of times when we dug ourselves a hole. But it came down to the last play of the game.”
En route to building a 14-0 lead, the Cardinals gained 10 first downs compared to none for Assumption.
Said Macaluso: “The Burlington league is strong. We always know it’s going to be a tough game. Hamilton is a hotbed for football, too, though. I’m sure they’re just as worried about the Hamilton team.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Neal Sullivan as the Cardinals Grade 10 junior call up, as per the game roster. However, this was incorrect and we have corrected it.